Taking A Break From Your Art

Almost exactly a year ago, I finished making a performance– the biggest dance-type thing I’ve ever made.  I’d also just made a wedding-type thing the month before, so I was tired.  A beloved community member, who I really liked, died the night he came to see the dance-type thing, so I was sad.  And then I lost my job, so I was depressed.

Isn’t this a fun story?

I didn’t want to think about being creative for a really long time.  I’d spent all of my money and then some (despite getting a grant) on the performance, and felt bitter.  But, I didn’t want to feel like a quitter.  (Dude- it rhymes!)

In fact, I read this article, which was tweeted by Minnesota Playlist.  The article discusses why it’s ok to take a break from making your art.  I was almost offended by it: how dare someone suggest such a thing?  I had a lot of fears about taking a break from making things.  Some of them were superficial (what am I going to tell people when they ask me what I’m working on?), and some felt more serious (will this make me less of an artist? and what will I do if I’m not at rehearsals?).

Other than a cameo appearance in a friend’s dance and a short piece I made with Ben in October, I haven’t worked on a performance in a year.  And, it’s been awesome.  

The truth is, sometimes you just need a break.  Sometimes, you’re tired. As Nancy Wozny, author of the article, writes “Over the years, I have heard heroic stories from artists working at many levels, even the ones with Guggenheims. There’s work to be done, and if you don’t have a staff to do it, it’s usually you. It gets old. People get tired. Our labors of love can easily shift into labors of dread.”

But, there’s another thing too: taking a break allows you to get some perspective.  It allows you to see what has been working and what hasn’t.  When I’m working on artistic projects (especially several in a row), I have little objectivity.  Looking at a past process while on artistic hiatus, though, reveals a lot of helpful information.  For instance, I can see how self-inflicted a lot of my anxiety was, and that I could minimize that by making sure that I have more collaborators next time.  I can see that I made things more complicated and expensive than they needed to be, and that the piece probably would have worked as well without the expensive set.  I realize that, had I planned better, I could have focused more on marketing and publicity, and that this side of things is almost as important as rehearsal time.

It’s been good to be reminded that we all wear many hats.  I can exercise my creative muscle outside the rehearsal room, whether inventing a salad dressing or fine-tuning a business plan with Ben.  And, I can enjoy that feeling that I almost forgot– that one where you are listening to music or reading a book or people watching, and all of a sudden big ideas start to just pour in- and probably because you weren’t forcing them; probably because you had the space.

My college theatre advisor reminded us often about life experience- about how there is no substitute, about how it is invaluable in what we make.  We could rush out of college and apply for grad school, but the thing that was really going to change how we created was something that we couldn’t force: time.  I hope I keep remembering that.  I hope that my buddies who are taking time away to be parents, partners, travelers, bread winners, or students of something totally unrelated and new remember that, too.


2 thoughts on “Taking A Break From Your Art

  1. Are you familiar with the designer Stefan Sagmeister? He takes a scheduled sabbatical every few years. Super interesting. Great post dear. 🙂

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