We’re Giving Creatives the Wrong Advice About Stress– and Here’s Why

by Dr. Jennifer Rhodes 

In 2013, Dr. Kelly McGonical gave an inspiring TED talk about stress.  According to her research, stress seems to only be harmful if you think it is.  In her talk and in her book that would follow, she encourages people to become friends with stress and to use the experience to build resilience.

This is not necessarily bad advice.  Stemming from the mindfulness movement, being able to sit with stress, not react to stress and to move beyond stress is what resilient individuals do every day.  Yet, that piece of the advice is being ignored in favor of telling creatives that they should seek a stressful life because it will make them more productive in the art world. And more productive is “better,” right?  In a recent ARTSY blog post, this was precisely the question posed.

This advice actually flies in the face of decades long research on both mindfulness and creativity.  As a licensed psychologist myself, I would never tell creatives to use stress to make themselves perform if that style was not a good fit for who they really are.

That’s right.  We are about to train a generation of creatives to ignore their own intuition and to listen to the demands of our culture on how to produce artwork from a one-size-fits-all perspective.  Last week, one of my interns thought it was weird that she was told in a class at a well known art school to take her time to produce just two pieces of work for the year. This used to be the norm–and it was the norm for a good reason. Now, students don’t know what to do with the time that they should use to be mindlessly wandering to ignite further creative thoughts.  Mindless wandering and following their curiosity is what helps creatives learn about their own creativity!

Many artists have been gifted with the ability to use their intuition and emotion to guide their creativity.  Yet, few understand who they really are or how to use these gifts to support their creativity. Having stress or negative emotions is not bad, but in the book The Upside of your Dark Side, Todd Kashdan, PhD states that you have to be able to label all of your emotional experiences to benefit from not being thrown by stress.  Most of us cannot do this. We report that we simply feel bad and miss the nuances in terms of what “bad” really means.  It is in these nuances, the ability to label and explain our experience that is the buffer from stress. According to Kashdan, if you are capable of understanding and labeling all your emotions, you will have a 40% reduction in the ill effects of the negative situation.

This makes a lot of sense to me.  However, our culture supports a manifesting, bulldozer attitude likely to make even the most capable person feel like a failure at some point.  Our attitude with creative entrepreneurs is that they should be doing all the time and if they are not doing they are failing.  What entrepreneurs and creatives alike need to do is get to know themselves well enough so that they can decide what works best for them individually. As a psychologist, I can attest that many people (especially those that are highly sensitive and creative) do not have these skills and it is in the lack of social-emotional skills that lay the triggers for suffering.

There is wisdom in learning to better understand your emotions and your stress.  This is why mindfulness is an important skill for some people to learn, but even mindfulness has its limitations when it comes to creativity.  Mindfulness needs to be balanced with mindlessness in order to innovate and create. It is why many business people get their most creative ideas when they travel on vacation.

Learning who you are is imperative to understanding how you best function.  In Kashdan’s book, he highlights research identifying the difference between being positive optimists and defensive pessimists.  In a separate research study by Dr. Julie Norem and Dr. Edward Chang found that positive optimists performed better in a dart throwing scenario when they relaxed first rather than thinking negatively, but the defensive pessimists did better when they were allowed to think strategically about the negative outcomes.  Defensive pessimists do perform better under stressful situations when they can strategize before the task. Further, they seem to handle negative emotions better and do not fall apart the way some positive optimists do – their lowest lows being not so low in comparison to others.

It is your relationship with yourself and your internal experience that matter most.  Knowing if you are really a positive optimist or someone who is naturally more of a defensive pessimist can help you navigate strategies to reframe whatever is causing you stress as an opportunity rather than a hurdle.  

Often, when we wish to avoid all negative emotions we actually end up causing our own misfortune.  Stress often has a story to tell, but we have to be willing to listen. It could be telling us that we are on the wrong life path, that something horrible is about to happen, or that our creative project is off in some way.

The only way to be able to hear these opportunities is to get to know yourself really well and choose to act from that framework.  One size fits all advice simply does not work. The human condition is far too complicated– and that’s a good thing. We just have to be careful that creatives don’t fall victim to the notion that productivity is what creativity is about. There is nothing creative about the mass production of work that is made simply to sell. Or about sending emotionally sensitive people the message that they are, again, not good enough.

The message from this line of research is clear, know yourself and just do you. Don’t avoid the emotions or that voice in your head.  There is wisdom in taking a step back to listen.

Is the Age of Creative Entrepreneurship the Enemy to Artists?

In a recent article on The Atlantic’s website, William Deresiewicz criticizes the modern push towards entrepreneurial art, claiming that it’s putting an end to art as we know it. He outlines the previous labels associated with artists: from the “artisan”, whose art revolved around notions of tradition and craftmanship, to the “genius” that evolved from the individualism of the Romantic Era, and ultimately arriving to the institutionalization of art in the mid-nineteenth century. During this culture boom, the artist became institutionalized as well– from the genius to the “professional”. In the age of modern capitalism, however, the artist has moved from the professional to the entrepreneur. Now, artists no longer need to rely on the mediating nature of institutions of art for their careers. We have moved on the the age of the self-employed, where everyone is their own boss and everyone is in charge of their own brand. We are in the age of self-motivated opportunity, where every artist has complete agency over their own career.

This shift in the nature of how we create and consume art undoubtedly calls into question the future of art itself. According to Deresiewicz, the entrepreneurial movement brings about a bleak future for the artist. He predicts shallower connections within networking; weaker practice within their discipline, due to the rise of a more multifarious artistic identity; and the commodification of artwork itself. Instead of dutifully working to master their single craft, modern artists are striving to be multidisciplinary, and at the expense of gaining skill in a single discipline. Artists are now creating a larger quantity of art, for the consumption of more people, and in turn compromising their potential single masterpiece. Deresiewicz deems this culture shift as the death of the artist. However, is this future really so dire? Do we need to presume every change in art as a downfall? Or should we merely accept it as a change, and take advantage of this exciting and transitional time?

In the past, every artistic change has been met with pessimism. In the 18th century, when the novel became the popularized medium for literature, there was a moral and cultural panic, as they believed it was the degeneration of literature. Eventually, films became the mainstream medium for storytelling, and more recently, television has become a favored artistic medium for the storyteller. While these changes were all met with extreme skepticism from critics, they were all able to produce brilliant and beautiful works of art. I believe that creative entrepreneurialism will also result in truly amazing art.

The fear is that consumerism will cloud the agency of the artist, and they will only try to make art that people will want to consume– essentially, they will sell out. However, in this age, everyone will be able to pursue their artistic career. We will be flooded with media to consume– so much media, that it will become pointless for the artist to specifically cater to the masses. For example, look at the current music industry– twenty years ago, this number of musicians and bands would never be able to have the successful careers they have now. Through Soundcloud, Spotify, BandCamp, and other online mediums, the number of working musicians has skyrocketed. There is no way an individual person can consume all the music out there, so they pick and choose what specifically resonates with them. Instead of conforming to the masses, the creative entrepreneur will be even more unique to themselves. They will have a brand that is unique to them, they will have a message that is personal to them, and they will unapologetically create until someone connects to their work. Art is the expression of the self; this new age of artistic entrepreneurs will be an age of connection through art. It will be an age of truths meeting other truths. There will always be artists who sell out, and there will always be artists who remain true to themselves. With the dramatic increase of art production we are soon going to witness, we have an opportunity that is unique to this moment in time. It is an opportunity of individual artistic power, a time for more voices to be heard, and ultimately, a chance for widespread human connection to occur through artistic expression.

Why a Personal Story is Crucial for an Artistic and Entrepreneurial Brand

Mountain peaks do not float unsupported;they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. 

– John Dewey, Art as Experience

Each artist and entrepreneur has their own unique style and ideas that contribute to their own personal brand. Your personal brand is the main thing that separates you from your colleagues, yet people do not use this individuality nearly enough to their advantage. Not only does your personal brand distinguish you from everyone else, but it allows you to c

ommunicate the deeper purpose of your work to the rest of the world. We know that artists must be the entrepreneurs of their own work, and the most important aspect of your marketing is sharing the profound and deeply personal narrative of your passion. In this article, you will find out how your personal story can enhance both your brand and your art to other people.

As an entrepreneur, having a strong personal brand will send out a message to the world that will attract opportunities to you. A personal brand immediately captivates potential clients and business partners, and a significant personal story behind the brand will further strengthen the connection between you and your consumers. Further, your own narrative will give your business a dynamic element, granting you a competitive edge over your peers and colleagues. For example, after filing a sexual harassment case against Tinder, Whitney Wolfe used her story to create the hugely successful app Bumble. Her million dollar idea was inspired from her own lived experience, which ultimately led to the success of her company. Everyone has their own story behind their personal brand, they just need to know how to communicate it to the masses. To do this, focus on describing why you started your company, what exactly your company does, and how your company can help your audience, just as it helped you in your own personal journey.

In his book Art as Experience, John Dewey argues that art is most meaningful within the context that it was created in. As an artist, you must be a storyteller in more ways than one. While you tell a story through your art, telling the story of what inspired you to create in the first place can be extremely powerful for buyers. According to gallerist Kim Fonder, sharing the story behind your art will help people understand and relate to it, which will eventually lead to a higher success rate in selling your art. While you may think your art conveys enough of your personal story as it is, consider other ways to share parts of your story that may not be apparent in your art. For example, sharing your creative routine, posting your story in the “About” section of your website, inviting people into your studio, or letting people into your world on social media platforms are all ways to give your audience a more personal approach to your work.

Overall, sharing your personal story has numerous business benefits both as an entrepreneur and an artist. From a business perspective, you will connect to a wider audience, form more genuine connections with your clients, and draw opportunities to your business. And in your personal life, you will develop a greater sense of personal fulfillment through your work and establish your own authentic and confident voice.

How the Growing Online Art Market is Inspiring a New Type of Artist

  A New Age of Selling

A universal challenge that many young artists face is that of initially jumping into the highly competitive and daunting art market. Every artist wants to sell their work, but with global art sales dwindling and traditional gallery exposure remaining cutthroat, selling seems more difficult than ever. However, the art world is shifting rapidly from the traditional auction houses and galleries, thanks to the rising popularity of online art sales. According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report, online art sales increased by 15% from 2015 to 2016, despite the slowing global art market. Here are some ways in which the online market is taking prominence in the art market:


Brick and click platforms

Traditional auction houses are now adjusting their sales strategies by taking advantage of the online art market. Companies like Sotheby’s, Artsy, and Christie’s now offer online auctions, and these types of sales accounted for 19% of all online art sales in 2016. This shows that even the traditional art businesses are gaining prominence in online art sales, suggesting a major shift in how we purchase and sell art.


Social Media

Social media is gaining much influence over both online and traditional art businesses. Instagram is the preferred social media platform for 57% of art buyers, with Facebook being the second most important platform. An overwhelming majority of galleries actively use social media to promote their galleries and art/artists. Further, auction houses such as Christie’s and Phillips, have found social media to be a powerful business and communications tool.

 Growing Confidence in Online Art Buyers 

Though some art buyers remain hesitant of buying art online, those who already purchase art online have been buying more art in the past year. 65% of existing online art buyers have bought more than one piece of art in the last year, which increased from 63% the year before. Half of existing online art buyers said that they would buy even more art and collectibles in the coming year, which is also an increase from the previous year.



What Does This Mean for Artists?

How does this affect you as an artist? The growing online art market is not only changing how people buy art, but how artists market and sell their art. Artists no longer need to rely on traditional galleries and auction houses as the only resource to sell your work. Now, you can take charge of your own career using the growing platform of online art trade. Becoming an entrepreneur for your art is the new key to success in this rapidly changing environment. Marketing your work through social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, is a powerful and effective way to curate your own brand and gain exposure to potential buyers and galleries. Entrepreneurial development programs, such as Visual Arts Reimagined are specifically designed to help artists thrive in this new age, supporting young artists to launch their career using an innovative and nontraditional approach. Through helping develop business and leadership skills and a supportive environment of creative and business professionals, Visual Arts Reimagined gives artists the tools they need to succeed in the modern art world.