Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. This month, we wanted to revisit a question we first posed in 2018, How do you deal with stress and burnout, as an artist?
Artists Clint Baclawski, Tsar Fedorsky, Marilyn Pappas, Jessica Rizkallah, and Debra Weisberg respond.
Marilyn Pappas, textile artist
For more years than I care to remember, I have been stitching on fabrics to create my artwork. During the past two decades this has taken the form of two and three dimensional hand stitched drawings on linen. It is a very slow, repetitive process that I find meditative and calming and one that allows me ample time to consider where and how the work will proceed. Although this simple, timeless technique protects me usually from burnout, I do occasionally like to shake up my work habits with more rapid, spontaneous mixed media collages.
In this particularly stressful time, I find my art a refuge and am grateful that, even at an advanced age, it remains such an integral part of my life. When all else fails and stress takes over, I watch Seinfeld repeats. Laughter also works!
Jess Rizkallah, poet
Even those of us with the ethos to push back against capitalism have internalized its poison even in our personal moments and how we take care of ourselves. It lives in the language we use to relate, which further isolates us. Once I realized that, I began asking myself “am I taking care of, or just trying to manage myself? Am I punishing myself?” And that has helped me in moments of stress and burnout. I identify whether my stress is from something I can fix, or from trying to fit my own process through a mold designed to maximize output/diminish creativity. This recognition isn’t always timely, so when burnout comes, I see it as my body wanting to take the wheel. I let it because honoring the body is as integral to being an artist as all the technical parts. Listening, observing, and grounding yourself in nature/the senses counts as “doing something” because it’s the center of everything. You are doing everything when you do that. Not the point, because we shouldn’t have to assign value to spiritual needs in order to feel valid doing them. But maybe it’s a training wheel thought as we unlearn, relearn, forgive ourselves.
Deb Weisberg, visual artist
To deal with burnout I try to stay out of my head and get into my body. It can mean more walks and more yoga. It can also include more visits to museums or galleries (now that they are open) to remind myself of how luscious an experience it is to see art, to move from the frustration of making into the amazing experience of seeing, to know that thousands of people all over the work are making all kinds of things and so much of it is exciting.
Sometimes burnout is actually boredom and means it is time to shake things up and to push myself out of my comfort zone. During the peak of COVID I reached out to dancer/choreographer Paul Higa at UVM whom I knew admired a large installation I did before the pandemic hit. Weekly exchanges via email and phone resulted in a collaboration for my show Holding the Center Still at the Piano Craft Gallery (through March 27). I guess the conclusion I have reached that for me, stress and burnout doesn’t just drift away. It sometimes takes decisive action to shift something in my life that will get me going again.
Tsar Fedorsky, photography artist
Stress is never good for creativity. When fear and negativity creep in, I review work by other artists, explore new media, and read novels to immerse myself in narratives beyond my own. I also speak with fellow fine arts photographers, whose experience grappling with similar concerns offers comfort.
During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Marc Zegans, a California based poet, on a Ghost Residency at the Manship Artists Residency. Unable to travel due to COVID, Marc decided to work with a photographer who lives near the Manship property. Photography and poetry work well together, evoking literal as well as more ambiguous interpretations. When entwined, these media can project an entirely new meaning. Indeed, poems are often juxtaposed with photographs or found at the beginning of photo books. The ghost project was a wonderful opportunity to connect with another artist during the pandemic.
Clint Baclawski, multimedia artist
I try to manage my life and stress within the framework of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote. It says “Finish every day and be done with it… some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; Forget them as soon as you can.” The sentiment resonates but I’m often reminded I could do a better job at the “forgetting” piece, as I can find myself dwelling on a mistake or stressful situation well past the day. I try to acknowledge the lessons in each stressful situation. What is this situation signaling to me?
When I’m stressed or on the edge of experiencing burnout, I typically turn to my network of creatives and loved ones. I do regular check-in calls to ensure I am seeing each situation clearly and staying solution-focused. I often need a quick reality check from the people who know me best! My grand thinking, which is my greatest asset as an artist, can also limit my ability to know what is realistic.
Sometimes, quite honestly, I thrive during stressful situations, as my focus narrows. A few years ago I completed three solo exhibitions of brand new work in three months, with two of them opening the same week. It’s wild what is possible working on sheer adrenaline once or twice in your life.
Some days, I simply grab my surfboard and head out in the water to clear my head.
Tsar Fedorsky (Photography Fellow ’15) will launch a Kickstarter campaign to create a limited edition photo book titled Stone, Ghost, Life. The series includes images produced in collaboration with the poet Marc Zegans during her ghost residency at the Manship Artists Residency + Studios in Gloucester, MA.
Marilyn Pappas (Crafts Fellow ’07, ’97, ’81) has a solo exhibition, Marilyn Pappas: A Retrospective at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton (thru 8/28).
Jessica Rizkallah (Poetry Fellow ’22) received the inaugural Etel Adnan Poetry Prize from the University of Arkansas Press and the Radius of Arab American Writers for her collection, the magic my body becomes. Her poems have been published by Northwest Review, The Margins, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.