Monday, January 07, 2008

Is That All There Is? Open Thread

I have to confess to being far too busy setting up the next exhibition to really relate to what our artists report is this consistently anti-climatic feeling they get when a solo exhibition comes down (even when it's far from their first). I mean I get it intellectually...all the hard work that went into it, months of anxiety about the reception, and even when sales are good and the press is good and the response by those you care about is good, there's still this lingering sense of "Is that all there is?"

I suspect artists are not alone in this. Anyone who puts as much energy and focus into something as an artist does for a solo exhibition will have to isolate themselves somewhat from their regular day-to-day life to get it all done, and it's most likely a combination of being somewhat disoriented in that day-to-day life again plus being somewhat surprised that you have extra time on your hand, plus the sense that you could have/should have gotten just a bit more out of that exhibition for all the work that went into it.

Of course, career-wise, the perfect antidote to this post-show funk is having another exhibition (or two or three) on its heels you have to worry about. But until you get to that point, what is there to be done about this dysphoria?

Some artists tell me they actually like the post-solo-exhibition phase of their careers because they've come to recognize it as the period in which they're most free to "play" again in their studios. Unless there's a high-pressure waiting list (which again will tend to curb the "Is that all there is?" blues) or another immediate exhibition to complete work for, having the breathing space to experiment is something they report they look forward to. Indeed, that freedom is something I hear artists bemoan having to fight for once their careers get going.

Again, I'm far too busy setting up the next show in the gallery to relate personally (although there are many exhibitions I still fondly recall and I guess you could say "miss"), so I'll open up this thread to artists, those who work with them, or those who support them and ask how do you respond to this anti-climatic sensation...or do you even feel it?

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Blogger Donna Dodson said...

for me there is the feeling, does it matter (did it matter) along with the exhiliration (sigh of relief) of the hard work and anxiety being over (of saying the right thing to people at openings) and it's nice when the open-ended creativity and time to play and make new work in my studio returns... i get depressed towards the end of the show but also envigorated/energized by the energy it takes to push out a show, install and promote it- i feel most like myself under that much pressure to perform- and i like it- i agree with you, there is the satisfcation of doing it and having it go well but there is also a let down when it's over... something like practice makes progress... helps to meditate on

1/07/2008 09:01:00 AM  
Anonymous susana said...

yes, it's like with any major project - a post-partum depression ensues. There is the stress and adrenaline before the show, the relief but still tension at the opening, then a period of purgatory. For me, common sense dictates that to avoid the full-blown blues one has to focus on a new project. And that is the antidote for me: starting all over again with something else. Being creative is a fabulous sisyphean task.

1/07/2008 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Post show meltdown-I discuss this often on my blog. I had never heard of all this when I first started showing and after my first show, I literally thought I was having a mental breakdown and would never be able to paint again. Luckily an artist friend of mine clued me in and I got over it.

For me, it's a letdown after the euphoria/stress/energy that I have to channel in preparing for the show. I have tried a variety of things to handle it and what I have found is that no one thing works every time. Getting right back to work helps a lot (as does eating a lot of chocolate chip cookies), but sometimes after a string of shows or constant work a break is necessary, and that's when things get tricky. I also find that if the show is successful; good sales, a lot of attention, the meltdown is worse. Too much pressure!

1/07/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous McFawn said...

I think the problem is that the hustle and bombast of self-promotion (getting a show, before the show, at the show) is hard to come down from because it is contrary to art-making.

When the show is over and you're back in the quiet world of making art, you're still hyped up from the stimulation and feedback of having your work out in the world. The cloistered studio's payoffs are slower and more subtle than being clapped on the back or seeing your name in an exhibition catalog.

The adjustment from the din of realization to the silent expanse of possibilities can be tough.

1/07/2008 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Iðunn said...

The Ashley Book of Knots

1/07/2008 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Yes, it can be a wrenching, depressed feeling. You're really running on fumes toward the end of the process as you complete the work and have it ready for delivery. Then there can be a fair amount of travel to get to the opening, another source of stress.

I wrote a blog item, "Post-Partum Abstraction," after a 2006 solo show in Boston. I think the title is better than the actual post, but
here's the link if you're interested:

1/07/2008 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Ron Diorio said...

This is timely.

I open at Peter Halpert's on Thursday, I'll try not to have such a good time to keep the let down to a minimum.

Next projects are important. I launch about 20 non art projects a year - it is a roller coaster of emotion. Having something to jump back in on is great.

Having another 3 or 4 shows lined up would be better.

1/07/2008 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

I used to tell my BFA students about this phenomenon 8 months before their final exhibition, so that they could get some other show or project lined up to focus on.

Mcfawn has a great point, the changing hats thing is a big part of it: switching back from exercising attentive, scintillating social skills to isolation, from self-promotion to not believing your own hype and humbly becoming a channel once again, from travel, setting up, promoting the show & partying to stillness.

Having another show lined up prevents you from having time to experience the blues, but the result is that you can go several years that way, producing work, but not stopping to take stock, play, evaluate, go off in a different direction. It requires self discipline to give that time to yourself, because, if you are a workaholic artist, you automatically want to be productive, make the next thing that can be sent to an art fair or gallery.

I have a friend who says that the best part of having a show is the five minutes after you get the news that you are having one: it is all downhill from there.

1/07/2008 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I have a friend who says that the best part of having a show is the five minutes after you get the news that you are having one: it is all downhill from there.

Funny, but pessimistic, and probably self-fulfilling after a certain point. I'd suggest looking at each exhibition as merely one step in the overall dialog with the public about one's work. No single conversation goes on indefinitely, but each new one continues from where the last one left off. The closing of each exhibition is more an "until we meet again" than a "goodbye" in my opinion.

1/07/2008 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you think other professions have the same problems, that being whatever you get, to whatever level, museum shows, sales etc. as an artist it never feels like enough, that there is always something you feel you dont have, and that the good news lasts for an hour at best then the doubts, worries, same old stuff keeps cropping up. i dont want to live my life feeling this but it seems like it is how it is, at least in new york in 2008, that nothing is ever enough, how does one combat this? therapy doesnt seem to help. being grateful isnt enough, or is this the condition of all artists, or the ones who have ambitions.

1/07/2008 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Good heavens, it seems that I am the only person on this thread who experiences natural troughs in my productive energy, whether I have a show or not! I find that these troughs are absolutely essential to my creative process, and that without them I reach burnout alarmingly quickly--I can still produce, but the work is empty.

So both after a show opens, and on a regular basis at other times, I work out, go to a café, have a pot of tea, get out my journal and stare into space. This is when all the creative ideas fall into my mind, like a bird between two mountains.

And anon--nothing is EVER enough if you look at the world from a solely materialistic viewpoint. Stop. If you open up completely to the present moment exactly as it is, suddenly life is richer and more glorious than you can possibly contain.

1/07/2008 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

feeling nothing is ever enough needn't relate only to materialistic concerns. I tend to eschew complacency in all aspects of my life. I can never spend enough time with Bambino, I can never read enough books, I can never travel to enough new places, I can never try enough different's more a sense that there's so little time in life and so many things to learn and see and feel, that it's lazy to be satisfied.

I understand the notion that happiness lies in "being present," but I'm not so sure that really is always the case. Being present suggests not being long-sighted, and that can create its own problems.

1/07/2008 01:25:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

I'm afraid I put too much into it, which takes everything out of me to put up a body of work for a show.

It took me about a year or a little longer to get back in the studio after my BFA show because I was wiped out from pouring all that energy into the work itself. That the art I make is tedious and very time consuming doesn't help. So it was less post-partum and more complete drainage. Burnt out? Perhaps, but it didn't really have that feel to it either.

I needed that time to gather my energy, research my ideas, and really flesh out the conceptualisation to start working again. I sifted through a lot of garbage that way, ha!

I think the benefit of all that down time though is that I was focused, ready, and energised; and had a very clear vision of what I wanted and I worked very well in the end because of it.

1/07/2008 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Being present suggests not being long-sighted, and that can create its own problems.

No, it doesn't suggest not being long-sighted, because the present connects to everything else; it is where the germ of future direction exists. What creates short-sightedness is being too immersed in projections of goals and ambitions to really take in everything around you. You miss most of the fun stuff that way.

1/07/2008 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

I have been openly mocked by strangers while standing on a street corner in Manhattan, agawp at the way the sunlight was reflecting across the corner of a building. This strikes me as bizarre. What is the price of a momentary feeling of petty superiority, when it means you're missing out on that joy and awe all around you?

1/07/2008 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I did have post show let down after (and even a little during) my last show, it's ending brought on the joy of not feeling I owed anyone anything, and I was really able to "play" and move forward in a way I hadn't been able to during, or months before my show.
A show is a sort of "dialogue" with the public, and it takes thought and commitment that can interrupt creative energies.
Of course it's easy to think about why xyz isn't happening for you, but is happening for Joe Artist, but it's important to know that these are dead-end questions that rarely relate to your personal vision.

1/07/2008 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

I'd like to add that I have learned not to view the post show letdown as a bad thing, but merely as another aspect of being an artist, and probably just as important as the frantic, chaotic time right before a show. Some of the most important changes in my work have taken place after a post show meltdown.

I don't feel the "Is That All There Is" thing (although it WAS my favorite song to drink to at Dirty Franks bar in Philly 20 years ago) mostly because I too feel like there is not enough time to do everything I want to do and there is always another project on deck to look forward to.

1/07/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger FEAR of said...

With no hot dogmatic It is food, food, food And it's full of flavor

1/07/2008 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

OK, I have to ask. Who is the picture of, and how is it relevant to the topic? I'm sure there's a reason but I'm feeling naive here...

1/07/2008 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

The "Is that all there is?" feeling can be solved by lowering your expectations for what you hope to get out of the show.

I used to get depressed after each exhibition... I relate to anon's statement about there never seeming to be enough, even when a work is sold or you get a great review. That feeling came from a hope that this was going to be the show was reviewed by a major art magazine, or was seen by the Whitney Biennial curator. The hope was high as the show opened, and then you realize that with each passing day, the big break was less likely to happen, until the show comes down, and then you realize that the opportunity has passed.

It helps to have as many balls in the air as possible, so no one exhibition holds too much weight, but if you don't expect anything to happen beyond having some people see and appreciate your work, all the good things that do come are fantastic surprises.

1/07/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the photo is of the singer/actress Peggy Lee. One of her most famous songs is "Is that all there is?"

she's unquestionably before your time, I'm guessing, James

1/07/2008 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Thanks for the answer. I bet she felt a little blue when the stage lights went dark, despite the sparkly dress. When it comes to post-event letdown, I think first more of performing artists rather than visual artists, but it's all the same really...

1/07/2008 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger the reader said...

I think Anon's 'never feels like its enough' comment hints at an important aspect of creativity. for me a healthy dissatisfaction is a creative imperative that drives my practice. I'm yet to have a show in which i feel like a particular body of work is 'resolved', a fact that helps me to develop my ideas about what is important in showing that work.

Having said that I wouldn't discount the possibility that an exhibition could help me arrive at that kind of resolution, but for me such a resolution would only come after a larger dissatisfaction with that overall body of work had led me to produce work on another tangent.

Other artists i speak to make the point that by the time the work is shown you've already moved on. I think this could be part of the dissatisfaction. what you see on the walls of the gallery is work that was vital for you months before the show but isn't what you are living and breathing in that moment.

n.b. for continuity's sake... i've previously posted on this blog under the name ben but have recently decided to stop fight blogger/gmail's automatic login.

1/07/2008 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

I have been openly mocked by strangers while standing on a street corner in Manhattan, agawp at the way the sunlight was reflecting across the corner of a building. This strikes me as bizarre. What is the price of a momentary feeling of petty superiority, when it means you're missing out on that joy and awe all around you?

Well said, prettylady; in both comments.

1/07/2008 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

Well, but really, isn't staring off into space part of everybody's creative process? I bet if you really think about it, you'll see that even in a run-up to creating the work for a show, there are those still points. it's the last couple weeks, when you're framing or what not that things get frantic.

I'm with Pretty Lady; it's all play time and it all happens at about the same proportion regardless of a show schedule.

I love Peggy Lee. Fever!

1/07/2008 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger Pedro Velez said...

yes, total boredom...

1/07/2008 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger fisher6000 said...

The last few times I've had the opportunity to have this feeling, I didn't have the luxury because other things were not on the horizon, but right on my ass.

This dreadful inability to find what PL has termed "bird between the mountains" place changed my expectations when I finally came to the end of this string of commitments.

Not doing anything and not craving anything seemed much more important. So I guess you always want what you don't have, regardless of what it is.

What I hope in the future is that knowing how relative that sensation is will help me appreciate what I am actually doing more than what I am wishing for.

1/07/2008 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

If you're old enough, or like old films you would know it seems at the end of each Dirty Harry movie Clint Eastwood throws his badge away and walks away from being a detective, only to return in the next movie
A: because there was still tickets to be sold at the box office

but more importantly because it's who Harry is, and what he loves.

That's me right now, after all the effort I put into an installation, I'm as always asking why the hell do I do this, and what is it good for? Feeling totally mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, pretty much spent Wednesday night til Monday morning in bed(ok by morning I mean afternoon).
a little afraid there won't be any more opportunities.
and a bit angst ridden that I'm creatively exhausted and will never do anything again ever...Ever. The funny thing about that is I have a stockpile of ideas, but for some reason at these times can't think of them.

Especial in critical political times like these, there has to to be some more important work I could use my abilities for, some way to affect change.

It helps me to think of something from "Still Life with Woodpecker" one of the character's, Bernard Mickey Wrangle, talks about a film that was shot in Paris during the Nazi occupation, it was a period piece about Louis the Fourteen or something of that period, paraphrasing he says that their doing that in full period costume right under the nazis noses was as important as anything the french resistance was doing because it was a reminder of what they were fighting for, the resistance might of been fighting for france, but they were saving its soul.

That keeps it in perspective for me
because as I see it no matter what the Patriot Act gives to the FBI or CIA, if we stop exercising the right to do what we love and participate in what ever activities we enjoy, then we loose our soul.
and I'll quote again the labor organizers:

"Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are Free."

but back to the post-partum depression

Maslow writes of Peak Experiences

"Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization" (Maslow, 1971,1). 48). We are more whole, more integrated, more aware of ourselves and of the world during peak moments. At such times we think, act, and feel most clearly and accurately. We are more loving and accepting of others, have less inner conflict and anxiety, and are better able to put our energies to constructive use. Some people enjoy more peak experiences than others, particularly those Maslow called transcending self-actualizers.

now that is what artist are experiencing when they are in the process, everything after that is just paying the Butcher's Bill, and trying to get back into the process, or as Oscar Wilde puts it

We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible."

but the anxiety deep down is that you've reached the summit there is no higher peak or worse yet it was all a fluke, then there's looking at the art and weighing it against all you sacrificed, maybe you talk to an old friend who has what you gave up for the art, the house, the family, the career, the 401k, I have one friend who started a municipal job right out of high school who is qualified to retire at 60% salary, so thinking of that and wondering if you should regret that you are an artist, wondering if you really had any choice in it at all, wondering could you make a real change if you wanted to. realizing there isn't much else you can do.

Then there is the Gatsby danger

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Hunter S. Thompson expressed it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and it's a great scene in the movie I like to watch it to see it illustrated and thanks to digital editing I cut it out of the rest of the movie, and because I am always looking for something to do I set up a
link to it so you can see what I'm referring to

but if we can't figure it out and there's nothing we can do about it,

then let's keep dancing.....

1/08/2008 08:29:00 AM  

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