A Stress Toolbox For Artists


A stress toolbox for artists.

The modern world can be a busy place seemingly throwing problem after problem in your direction; it doesn’t take long for these problems to mount up and the result is often stress.
Cases of stress and anxiety are now the second most reported ill health condition in respect of work for doctors. (Only musculoskeletal problems trump them.)
But the good news is that as an artist or a creative your natural abilities give you a variety of skillsets that, even in the middle of modern stress, have the potential to help you deal better with what life throws at you.
After all, artists are hard wired to be resourceful and creative and it’s good to remind ourselves that artistic skills are not just for the studio – they are fully transferable to other areas of life.

Problem solving.

By their very nature, artists respond to complex problems by searching for creative solutions. Many artists talk about how – when they are in the creative process – they sense a change in their thought patterns that helps them to subtly look at a situation from a new perspective to find new possibilities and approaches – no matter how long it takes.
Think Picasso’s famous portrait of Gertrude Stein. Picasso had Stein attend 90 sittings where he constantly painted and then abandoned the work. He said he painted her so many times that he ‘could no longer even see her.’ His solution: go look at Iberian sculpture, change from a previous flat style and begin painting in a much more sculpted fashion. And, most crucially, paint without the model present – only in her absence could he truly recreate her.

Chaos and change.

Creativity isn’t fazed by chaos or by things not ‘going as they should.’ As American artist Romare Bearden said: “The artist confronts chaos. The whole thing of art is, how do you organise chaos.”
The world might throw misunderstanding and confusion your way but, as an artist, remember that this is what you’re good at. Whereas others tend to find change difficult – it’s one of the biggest stressors – artists tend to see it in a different way. For artists, change is an absolute necessity and we can learn to see it as something which presents new opportunities rather than something to fear.
It is within change that the artist finds art and we can look for the same solace there outside of our artistic practice.

Perpetual beta.

‘Perpetual beta’ is a technological term meaning ‘ to keep software or a system in a beta development state for an indefinite or extended period of time.’ This state allows for constant updates and improvements to a system to make it better.
Some artists use the term to reflect that creative people don’t necessarily require to reach a state of perfection and to then just go on repeating it. This is the antithesis of creativity. To standstill is often easier than pushing forwards but it is artistically negative.
Try to remember that you’re always a work in progress.
‘Great art is never perfect, perfect art is never great.’ Edward Abbey.

Asking questions.

Even when the going gets tough, art and artists are good at asking questions. Specifically ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.
Why is this as it is?
Why do things look this way?
Why do things work this way?
How can I change this?
How can I find beauty?
How can I put my own individual stamp and response in this?

Asking questions like this at difficult times can reintroduce some feeling of control to a situation which otherwise can easily feel as if it is spiralling out of control. They can help create a shift in perspective away from negative thoughts.
As American artist Alex Katz says: “Part of what I’m about is seeing how I can paint the same thing differently instead of different things the same way.”


Art can also teach us that – sometimes – we will find ourselves alone in the world. Sometimes this is part of the process – art has a long history of rejection! But part of the artist’s mind set is resilience.
Art tutor, Betty Edwards, has a story on her website (http://drawright.com/) of Californian artist, John Wullbrandt, who lost all his work in the recent wildfires. Whilst talking to reporters he lamented the loss of his work and the landscape they depicted but added:
“It really will be like the Phoenix rising out of the ashes, the rebirth,” Wullbrandt says. “It will be so much more beautiful once it starts to rejuvenate. We’re gonna see wildflowers we haven’t seen in 100 years.” Then Wullbrandt gazes up at a mountain ridge in the distance, now a thin, ash-gray paint stroke on the horizon.
“The spring — just wait. As an artist, I can’t wait to paint it.”
Art is often the long game. So when life gets difficult, use the tools that make you an artist to safeguard your own well being. Hang in there …..

“Art is not an escape but a way of finding order in chaos, a way of confronting life.” Robert Hayden.