Creativity and Wellness

The subject of the struggling artist stereotype has long been an interest of mine. Finding happiness in pursuing creativity is difficult if you are under-privileged, because the creative industries, by nature, rejects us. There are great auteurs, all of whom are quite well-off, and usually based in London, New York, LA, Paris or another city akin. They have the means and money to surround themselves in luxury, materialism, comfort and mental care.

I’m worlds away from that – as are most people. I object the struggling artist stereotype overcoming my identity or work. I defy that I should have struggle to create good art, because the word struggle doesn’t fully articulate the torment we face as creators. Not all people create their magnum opus while they are navigating the troughs of their rock bottoms. They build wonder in hindsight while they traverse their peaks.

Over the years, I have picked up a few tips on how to find the right balance and create a space for yourself where you can garner creative wellness, because not all of us find that struggle and heartache is conducive to our best work. I split the tools needed for creative wellness into four different categories:

  • Home environment
  • Time
  • Mental Health/Trauma Space
  • Personal Wealth

All of these subjects link. Our home environment and time are linked to our personal wealth and all of those are often dependent on our mental health or our upbringing. Studies have found that people who come from traumatic childhoods struggle to build basic young-adult foundations; things like personal and professional relationships due to lack of confidence or learned behaviors, or finding stability in a work space due to environmental triggers or confrontation/social misunderstandings. There is a very clear link, and not only that, but there is a cycle and a ceiling that some people are simply not able to break through.

In this blog, I hope I can share some tips and advice on how to balance these four elements so that we can all build a healthy lifestyle while pursuing creativity.

This is my favourite painting, and I’ve found myself bewitched daily by it for the best part of a decade. It’s called ‘Isabella and the Pot of Basil’. Painted in 1868, it explores the notion of grief and holding onto love – it tells the tale of a grieving woman who keeps her lovers head in a pot. The painter of this masterpiece was called William Holman Hunt and he painted this only two years after he lost his wife to childbirth. This piece is stunning and I think it’s all the more stunning because he waited to tell his story. There is a shift in his work around this time period, before and after the events of his first wife dying, his work is jovial, but for many years while he grieved, his work became melancholy and bittersweet while he explored themes of loss.

Home Environment

Not everyone has the luxury of a creative space within their home, however, for a healthy work/life balance, there does have to be a degree of separation.

  • If you have a spare room, great! Use that space to your advantage. Separation is key because that space then becomes a haven where you can come and go as you please – leaving behind creative stressors when you don’t want or need the burden of carrying them.
  • Some don’t have the luxury of a spare room. I find the space we do the most relaxing is the living room, so avoid that room like the plague, no matter how tempted you are. Use your kitchen space instead (even if that space is somehow connected to your living room). Cooking is a very productive task and so creativity and the kitchen have a strong link. If you can get yourself a free or low-cost stool where you can work from a kitchen counter space, that’s a good shout.
  • Try and find somewhere with good natural light – somewhere near a window if you can.
  • Keep your personal and creative space tidy. I know that time is not a luxury afforded to many working-class creatives, but do invest some time in just clearing the space so that you feel ready and fresh while working.
  • At all costs, DO NOT work in your bedroom. Psychologically, that is a place of rest and if you work hard in a space of rest, you will really struggle sleeping. Sleep is also instrumental in maintaining good mental health.
  • Surround yourself with nice things. There is a myth (created by the wealthy) that working-class people are not entitled to material comfort because they should be saving. This is a lie. I’ve found beautiful furnishings on community support groups where people post things they don’t need anymore. I’ve grabbed mates and carried desks across towns because I don’t have a car. I’ve snagged deals from charity shops and from gumtree. I furnished my house on only £100 because I found that people wanted the convenience of shifting their old things more than the money they’d make selling them. It’s nice furniture too – all it needed was a good clean down. Be creative, I once bought a clock face for £2.50 and installed it into a baby grandfather clock case I found on a back street. It’s a nice little waist-high clock now!

Time

This one is hard, but I am going to split it into three sections to try and help offer clarity on how best to spend time when you don’t have much of it.

Finding free time to be creative can be really difficult if you are working full-time to pay the rent. After you finish work, spare one extra hour for your creativity and then take the rest of the night off. This can be really difficult and tiring to add to your work day, but if you build it into your routine, it will start to get a lot easier. Another piece of advice is to only use one of your days off for creativity. The truth is, you cannot make your best work if you are exhausted. You need a day of rest.

Work Vs Relaxing Time can be a difficult one because there is always the overhanging guilt of not working, but seperate your time. Once I am done, I am done. It’s very rare that I allow my creative time to slip past my personal time boundaries. Having time to cool down can be really important, especially if you are working on a project that is close to home. Be strict with yourself and do not let one slip into the other. The time you spend creating is sacred and emotionally-draining and consuming.

Down Time Boundaries are also really important. Coming off the point above, making sure that the separation is there is key. My laptop stays in another room and I have all my email apps on a cool down between certain times so I can’t see notifications or access them. Setting these boundaries has been instrumental to creating good work. Now, when I open my laptop and start to work, there is no messing around. I know that this is my only chance to make the most of creativity on any given day.

Mental Health and Trauma Space

Mental health is a very difficult one too. Unlike the others, it is not something we can physically pick up and put down at will. It follows us. It is carried with us. It is heavy. The biggest thing I find is that when you are feeling overwhelmed or triggered, you mustn’t work – no matter how much you want to. It could cause catastrophic side effects to your mental health or trauma recovery. Nothing is worth your mental wellbeing, not a film, not a book, nor a painting. Nothing. You are more important that your art. That might be a hard pill to swallow but it is just the truth. It’s something I have struggled coming to terms with myself.

For the most part, if you are suffering with mental torment, your work will be a physical representation of that. It will be confused and lost because that is often how we communicate our feelings when we are in that place. I find, that when I am at my lowest, I will not speak. Art is communication and if you can’t communicate well, sit down and gather yourself before you try to. You owe it to yourself and to your work to be looked after so that you can do the work justice when the time comes. It is a myth that you must be suffering while you create – that is simply not true.

As much as it hurts you to step away, always get space if you are feeling mentally unwell. Do a solid for future you so that they can create the masterpiece you were born to make.

*Please refer to Isabella and the Pot of Basil.

Personal Wealth

As we speak, I am penning this wearing gloves, a hat, a scalf, a body warmer, a jumper and a big cardigan too. I am no stranger to struggling during the cold months when the tariff for heating sky-rockets. Personal wealth, out of all the elements, is the one that people usually have the least control over (if you are working-class). My advice to you here is save as much as you can, every spare penny, but allow yourself to live every now and then too. If you deserve a treat, buy that Tesco’s Finest ready meal or treat yourself to fresh orange juice instead of drinking water all the time. The small luxuries are the ones that can sometimes carry us through the difficult times.

Examples of one-off good treats:

  • Experiences.
  • A book.
  • A treat food. For example, get that extra expensive cheese every now and then. You deserve Extra Mature Cheddar.
  • Either something that won’t last at all, or will last a lifetime. For example, foods go quick, but they’re are a good small pick me up every now and then. An example of how not to do this is to buy a mug or blanket that you know will lose novelty in a week. The item becomes instantly disposable, where as the book, for example, will nourish your creativity.

Examples of one-off bad treats:

  • Big splurges. For example, a camera or a games console etc.
  • Material items that don’t hold much value in passion or sentimental value. For example, if you see a cushion you like, but you just like it and don’t love it.
  • Lots of little purchases in a big haul. For example, buying twenty books in one haul is not a treat, it’s a huge splurge.

The point of this is because, even if you aren’t rich enough to be able to afford the fanciest clothes or cars, you do deserve treats. You’re a human being. Every now and then, get a 99p face mask from Home Bargains. 99p won’t break the bank and it will make you feel better, even if only for a short time.

Another top tip is to time these well. If you know that you’ve got a deadline coming up for something or a difficult period ahead, buy these as you go into the eye of the storm and not after you’ve walked through it. Don’t condition your creativity by using rewards as an incentive to finish the work. The reward is the creativity itself and the treat should sweeten the deal or make the difficult periods of creativity kinder on the weary working-class soul. Creativity is a gift that you have been born with and lots of people will try to put a price on that or dissuade you. The difficult periods of creativity should be nourished with self-love and self-care. Do not use it as a period to punish yourself mentally for struggling. I do understand why people use treats as incentives for meeting deadlines or hitting a target, but it can sometimes be quite damaging because you condition your behavior to be that way. It’s a temporary solution to a larger problem, which is, you are struggling to work.

Anyway, I hope my ramblings have helped. To summarize, look after yourself and don’t let preconceptions about what we should or shouldn’t be doing as a starving and struggling artist get to you. Forge your own path.

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