Artists' Roller-Coaster Rides / by Jeannine Cook

For long years now, I have recognised that after any big effort in exhibiting, talking or otherwise being an artist in public, I hit a real trough, almost like John Bunyan's "slough of despond".  Was this just me, I wondered, or do other artists experience such lows after highs?

Recently, a wonderful French artist friend, Marie-Laure Hergibot, and I were talking.  She had just had a very successful exhibition opening, and she alluded to the same sense of psychological deflation.  It made me feel much better! At least I was not alone in knowing that after the high came the low and then, the trick always is to pick oneself up again and go on, working towards the next goal, the next horizon.

It is interesting that such a 'slough of despond" is in no way related to a sense of failure.  Frequently I can, in all honesty, say that whatever artistic endeavour I was involved with had been a great success, with all sorts of positive feedback, art sales, or whatever.  Nonetheless, the next week is always accompanied with a sense of deflation. 

What do artists do to pick themselves up again and set off on the next odyssey of creation?  I would be fascinated to know what others do.  My reaction to this stage of life is varied:

-      as long as other aspects of life don't crowd in on me, I try to just allow myself to "be". I float, I read books that are upbeat and fascinating, I go gardening, walking, swimming, even ironing. I allow my brain to sort itself out and allow new thoughts to emerge. Above all, I try to spend a lot of time alone, reverting to the solitary ways of being an artist, of recognising that I need above to be an artist.

-     surrounding oneself with beauty, natural beauty if possible in my case, is always restorative.  Music is a wonderful antidote to any blues and I love to go to concerts or listen to new and old favourites that give mental space and yet a sense of immediate joy and nourishment.

Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Composition VIII’ (1923) Image Courtesy of The Guggenheim Museum, New York

Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Composition VIII’ (1923) Image Courtesy of The Guggenheim Museum, New York

-      getting fascinated in new aspects of life, how things are related and connected, put together, how they grow - these are all ways I find come naturally to my rescue when I need to regain my equilibrium. Somehow, I often find myself looking and thinking about Wassily Kandinsky in his endless explorations of relationships of shapes, lines, colours and how he interpreted life is such a personal way.

Improvisation 35, 1914, Wassily Kandinsky,  Image Courtesy of the Kunstmuseum Basel

Improvisation 35, 1914, Wassily Kandinsky,  Image Courtesy of the Kunstmuseum Basel

-      times like these can be valuable as periods which offer "the wide-open field of possibility for renewal, for starting from scratch" as fellow blogger, Maria Popova, wrote about Creativity, the Gift of Failure and the Crucial Difference between Success and Mastery.  Her piece is actually at a tangent to what I experience, but nonetheless, these pauses and hiccups in life all allow a fresh start, a rededication to creative paths and explorations.

-     as the lows begin to recede, I try also to evaluate what has been positive and instructive in the feedback that I have received from people about my last 'effort'.  There are always things to absorb as everyone brings a different life, a different eye to the dialogue with my art.  No one person has an identical reaction to another person's when viewing art.  This evaluation does not mean then that I will try to tailor future work to such comments: more, it tells me if I am being honest in my art or if I need to try harder.

Pretty soon, my "rest cure" seems to allow new horizons to look interesting, the "slough of despond" dissipates and life comes back into a better balance.  Nonetheless, I now recognise that these reactions of well-neigh depression after a big artistic event are actually a natural moment of rebalancing, of reorienting to other ventures.  The trick then is to use each hiatus as, ultimately, a step forward to something new and worthwhile in which I can get passionately involved.