Working towards goals can lead to structure and focus, and enable peak performances: processes, collaborations and time schedules sometimes all work in unison towards accomplishing your targets. Streamlined work phases can be deeply and holistically satisfying: you know what to do, how to do it, and why you’re doing it. Even if your specific experience of working towards a goal is less positive, actually reaching a finishing line can easily influence your work structures negatively. Instead of experiencing bliss, you might experience hardships: your expectations might not be met (your hopes and ideas about what would happen upon reaching the goal), your structures might crumble (rented studios or tools need to be returned, collaborations with specific people end), and, if unlucky, a burnout might emerge as a result of the overtime you invested. While the idea of reaching goals is positive, its reality is often more ambiguous.
The value of your artistic practice
Understand that your previous satisfaction most likely came from pursuing your artistic practice while also having a goal towards which to work: you had a platform – one that required and rewarded your focus. Losing this platform is bound to result in frustration. While reaching your goal might have resulted in temporary happiness, the loss of momentum is often way more noticeable – which is why you need to get back to work and reestablish yourself: by reestablishing your artistic platform. For this, you don’t necessarily need a new project or goal: their lack doesn’t diminish the validity and importance of your artmaking practice. What’s relevant is for you to grasp the importance of your artistic practice as basis of your identity: you are an artist because you pursue an artistic practice. As long as you do this, you have a voice – which can ultimately lead to further visibility, projects and goals. Over an artist’s life, it seems most important to gradually minimize this loss of self. To this end, strong work habits seem the best strategy.
One step at a time..
For now though, if you feel unmotivated or depressed: take your time. Accept the challenge of your situation: to eventually get back to work. Focus on establishing a daily work habit in the spirit of beginner’s mind, and of reestablishing yourself as an artist (to yourself): you might have achieved a lot just days ago, and might have solved an insurmountable challenge. Yet with this challenge gone, you need to take care of the new one: to continue working. Instead of worrying about goals, focus on being the person who does specific actions: who’s in the studio on time, creates a clean studio, draws for fifteen minutes. Who stops before it gets to be too much.
Don’t expect yourself to work a full day; it’s OK to attend to (re-)forming the habit of simply getting to the studio at all. Considering the circumstances, achieving this isn’t nothing; it’s a lot. If you manage to get to the studio every day, you’ll eventually want to do more there. Small tasks is all it needs to get there: progress through tiny steps – without risking further self-alienation. Consider ritualizing the beginning: get dressed. Brush your teeth. Take your shoes on. Focus on the small, innocent steps without which no studio day can start. Once there, start cleaning. Read a book. Ignore your phone. Revisit unfinished work. Write down your thoughts, then leave for a walk: you’ve done enough. You managed to get dressed. You managed to get to the studio. It’s through the repetition of gradual, basic steps like this that you reestablish yourself.
Being without direction is part of the cycle
Your artistic practice is both opportunity and struggle. Whatever you create is what you get judged by – if not by others, then by yourself. Reaching a goal manifests your many inabilities, while removing your motivating force. To transcend this, strongly consider replacing a goal-based with a process-based approach. Once you understand life (and your artmaking) as a process, it’s easier to be OK with being stalled, to be without direction: it’s part of the endless artistic cycle. At the same time, don’t rush: you will develop subconscious inclinations on what to pursue next, similar to an athlete whose body aches to finally get back to training after a week’s vacation. To get back to a collector who was interested in your work, to call your gallery and meet for coffee, to visit friends or colleagues – or to do none of these, but simply stay home, watch a movie and sulk. It’s ok: this too shall pass.
Consider reading these strategies on how to continue your practice when feeling disassociated from it, and the various chapters on how to start (focusing, investigating, and increasing your commitment) your artmaking.