Written by Ash Catcher
As an artist, and you can take that as an umbrella term, because this year especially I have been working in some more unusual mediums, the term obsession could be considered the understatement of the freakin millennia. Yes, artists no matter what the outlet is obsessed with, well, themselves. I [am actually] not thrilled with the term narcissist, I think it is very important to love yourself unconditionally, and I can finally say after a really long time, and losing a lot of people that I am very happy with myself. I much prefer words like passion rather than obsession. I am passionate about expressing myself, through creative visuals, words, video, food, whatever I feel like. I am a creator, when most people ask me what I do for a living, I always end up struggling to answer them, I simply say I am a creator now. I mostly work on myself, and for myself, and yea[h] there are some things that I harbor on, and have to address, but hey, like I always say you have to suffer a little bit for your art.
Otherwise, one, you are a poser, and two, all artists go through shit. So show it off, get it out there, even if nobody reads it, sees it, experiences, it, or tastes it. You put it out there. Most art is stored and undiscovered. Don’t hoard your creative efforts. I believe that Artists can hone their creativity and selective obsessions, (passions) and create a stream of conscious content. After all that is the hardest past for someone who is creative is coming up with an idea.
Artists know the feeling well. You get absorbed in your work to the point of obsession. Yes, you might be making great art, but there is a personal, psychological price that you are paying to do it. Most of us deny that cost. We tough it out and put on the brave “everything’s ok and I love what I do” face. What we don’t reveal is the dark side of our obsession. When I started to think about this subject, it occurred to me that entrepreneurs and artists have a lot in common. They are both driven by a goal, the power and magnetism of which few others can truly appreciate. We become slightly manic, in our endeavors. Quite frequently, we put the work above all else, we take risks with our health and finances and we work ourselves into a right old emotional state, to get the art made or the venture to succeed
Here’s the thing. You are a creative creature, driven to produce because you’re wired this way. They call it hypomania, in some circles. You’re just crazy enough to pursue obsessions single-mindedly, but not so crazy that you’re clinically manic. You do share many of the symptoms, though. They say that people who are the children of immigrants are predisposed to hypomania. It’s in the genes. There are a high proportion of artists and entrepreneurs that have this slight manic quality to them, undeniably. Being slightly obsessive, and manic is a human condition, you feel things at seemingly higher amplitude than most. You’re happiest when you’re in the flow, but most anxious when you’re frustrated (being prevented from creating or pursuing your goal) or when you’ve failed (the venture folded, or the art was received badly or didn’t get finished at all). You always have to find yourself in that in-between zone between thwarted and defeated[ and ]where you are working slightly too hard, just to feel normal.
Characteristically, artists and entrepreneurs that are slightly obsessed and manic are absorbed to the point of exclusion of most other important aspects of life – they’re overworked, often overextended financially, they neglect to take care of their bodies, health and relationships and they are highly critical of their own performance and output. In short, they’re not fun to be around anyway. Partners can find them detached, distracted and downright emotionally distant or even psychologically abusive. They might be thought to be isolated or narcissistic, even selfish. When they’re immersed in their work, they’re cut off from the world and everybody in it. I am guilty of it. That is why 99.834234% of the time I don't text someone back is because I am making something.
A consequence of this state of being is that the hypomanic artist or entrepreneur (and after all, many professional artists are also entrepreneurs, it has to be said), is prone to feelings of stress, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, depression and loss of self confidence. They’re vulnerable, but can’t or won’t admit to it, for fear of it affecting their ability to complete the work. Sometimes, the worry caused by the work they have voluntarily undertaken to do can be psychologically debilitating. It can make you physically ill too. You look, to the entire world, like the heroic over-achiever, but inside you’re crumbling.
The pay off, if you can live through it, is that you succeed. When you succeed, you enjoy the temporary spoils of the win, but being obsessive, it isn’t long before you throw yourself into your next obsessive project. It’s not something you can help.
On the other hand, if you fail, the consequences can be devastating. You’ve made all these sacrifices and tried so hard, exhausted yourself, your finances and your relationships in the process and you’ve finished up with much less than you hoped for. Your confidence ebbs away. It makes it harder to pick yourself up and start again. In fact, you can begin to fear this feeling so much, that it stops you from starting. You just can’t face starting a new venture or new art project, for fear of the takeover of your entire life that comes with it, and the consequences of failure. Failure, if we are honest, is more likely than not. That’s just the way it is.
It has been said that it’s a little like post traumatic stress disorder. You’ve been in battle, taken some bad hits and now you just can’t face getting back to the front line. In fact, you can’t help overreacting to all sorts of silly stuff. You’re shell[-]shocked.
I, and a multitude of creative pals have had many failed start-up ventures. I abused my body, didn’t get enough sleep, or exercise and cut myself off from those around me when I needed them most. It was horrible. The failures make it hard for me to start new big things. I start a lot of small things, instead and try to see them through to completion. Call it therapy, call it obsession, call it whatever you want. It’s a numbers game and hey something is bound to stick.
What I learned was that I was most able to deal with the anxiety when I had a paint brush, or a camera in my hand. It has always been this way for me. I feel at peace when it’s just me and a canvas, when others may be filled with frustration or dread. I am ready to see and literally paint the possibilities. I never ever EVER plan a painting. It is what it is, creating something out of nothing is exhausting. Manifesting something out of thin air, especially when you have no clue what you’re creating until it's all done is practically insane.
I also learned that to survive the obsession, and it's dark consequences, you need to love deliberately. Love yourself, and your loved ones and pay special attention to doing so. Sleep, eat right and relax when you need to. Take time to be who you are, rather than being owned by your obsession, and take time to be with those you love and to do the things you love to do. Finally, be courageous, emotionally honest and open hearted enough to admit to your vulnerability. If a project is taking too long for you to take a break, nobody will know but you. I almost never tell anyone about my personal creative projects until they are already conceptualized, and on the wall. You’ll be surprised at how much you can create when you pace yourself.
Is there such a thing as loving your craft too much? Can you lose yourself in your own passion, even if you create something about yourself for yourself for other people…. How deep do you have to go before you go down the rabbit hole and your purple pills deep? Developing creativity, and realizing creative ideas usually take some degree of obsession. But is it on the borderline of a disorder? Is it some sort of pseudo artistic bullshit obsessive compulsive disorder? Is it a weird cocktail of anxiety and repetitive ritualized behaviors? Why the fuck do people even make art anyway?
I certainly think there is a darker side of creative obsession. Artists are OBSESSED with detail. Every artist I know has a form of OCD, PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, and a mixed bag of personality disorders. There is artsy, and then there is borderline insane. Sure it is a creative rainbow sliding kinky Kinsey scale.
Just like with everything in life there are extremes, The Artist is their own biggest fan, and worst critic. Whether we are aware of It or not, balance is out and obsession is in. People now more than ever are expressing their own beliefs, passions, obsession, and views. Let’s just chalk it up to a shitty year for humanity as a collective.
So, my artistic friends, if you are engaged in an obsessive pursuit, beware of the dark side of the obsession and make time to maintain your own psychological health and that of those around you. It’s important.