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I abandoned my art practice months or years ago. How can I continue my work?

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A lot of emerging artists eventually abandon their art practice altogether. This can be due to life changes (parenthood, having switched jobs from side gig to full time, having moved countries); there could have been specific health or mental health problems, or the realization that the artist’s life’s ongoing frustrations simply aren’t a good enough deal.

After having abandoned your art practice, continuing it can feel especially threatening. You might feel like having tried and failed – who are you to get back in the ring? Understand that the basic act of considering the continuation of your practice already highlights a tendency or will to continue: quite obviously, you haven’t ultimately given up yet. Try to see your previous actions as path towards a deeper, more fragile, and ultimately essential knowledge about the pitfalls of being an artist – knowledge that wasn’t available to you before. Instead of interpreting your past experience as failure, be neutral: understand it as a prerequisite to the next stage of your artistic life, required to proceed in a challenging field. You might have been gone and felt disassociated from your work; but more importantly, you might be back.

Consider the following strategies to reestablish your artistic practice:

  • Analyze what made you abandon your work: Increase your understanding of why you left your artmaking; was it because of specific collaborators, economic hardships, lack of visibility, or something else entirely? Understand the structural basis of your previous situation, and how you could improve on it today. Understand that while some situations cannot be improved easily, your knowledge of their existence and severity already influences your perception of them, and your potential handling of similar upcoming situations.

  • Accept your previous choice as part of your today’s expanded experience: Understand that situations are abandoned for valid reasons. Accept your previous judgment and see the benefits it brought you. To this end, write a list of things that happened since, focusing on what wouldn’t have happened without first abandoning your art practice. Understand how life has changed since – and move on.

  • Treat this situation as a new beginning: Although you could most likely return to established processes, understand that your current situation potentially benefits from a new beginning; consider reading about how to focus, how to investigate, and how to slowly increase the commitment. Question your former setup: did you have a healthy work schedule? If not, establish one now. Did you have realistic goals? If not, establish them now. Start small, with tiny steps, and gradually increase the pressure. See where it leads to.

  • Begin: Understand that you will eventually have to stop pondering and start acting. Start with whatever low-commitment task that comes easy to you: drawing on paper, your hands on clay, revisiting a specific body movement or rhythm. See how it makes you feel, and decide whether to continue or pause.

Remember that your goal as an artist is to focus your artmaking. While this can be challenging and complex, it doesn’t need to be when you try to get back in the ring: you have something to say, and have means to express it – it doesn’t have to be more complex that this, at least for now. You might wonder about your current doubts, about your place in life, about weird aspects of your surroundings – or you might not wander about anything. Neither matters: what matters is the connection to your materials, and what emerges from it. For this, you need to invest time. Consider thirty minutes per day, or three times a week. Understand that you don’t need to continue your previous efforts, but can reinvent yourself and your voice in new media and materials. Give it a try.

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