Overcoming The Anxiety Behind Art Making

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Anxiety is one of the most significant issues among artists that often affects women and LBGTQ people the hardest. Some of the most recognized female artists in history, Frida Kola, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Edvard Munch, despite their success, all faced the torments of anxiety and depression. 

Whether we gawk at the legacies of these artists or shame the stories of the people amongst us, we have told the narrative of anxiety and mental illness irresponsibly for too long. 

Artists, we do not have to suffer for our art. There are tricks to overcoming anxiety in this modern age with arguably more difficulties than ever.

The tortured artist, do we have to suffer?

Women are more than twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. LBGTQ people are up to three times more likely to experience a mental health condition. This has been said to be a mix of biological factors and societal influences such as discrimination, social pressures, and abuse. 

As an artist in these marginalized groups, we have a greater chance of bringing these disadvantages to our occupation. Excessive worrying, wavering self-confidence, and panic attacks can lead to any number of difficulties, whether it be promoting themselves, communicating with an art director, or doubting their creative abilities.

Since the link between creativity and mental illness has become so recognized through stereotypes, people tend to over-romanticize the story of the tortured artist. Sensationalism can give the impression that an artist can only create because of her condition, not despite it. This idea can be harmful, even when believed subconsciously if it prevents someone from seeking help and developing healthy coping skills.

When I faced spouts of anxiety in my childhood, my mother would tell me that artists tend to be moody, that it was normal for someone with my kind of creative aspirations to suffer. Although it is not what she intended, I came to think of my anxiety as a partner to my creativity, a necessary evil, even in times when it seemed to interrupt my art making. 

It was only until I was through most of college that I finally found help for my anxiety. That decision helped me uncover the creative potential that I have suppressed all these years. Treating for anxiety and depression does not change someone, but instead helps them become the happier person.

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What to do when anxiety flares up?

For most people, anxiety is a lifelong battle. So it’s essential to develop a way of calming your nerves when they arise. In our modern world, we have more pressures and obligations than ever before, which for some of us means more reasons to worry. Awesome, right? 

Instagram, Dribble, and now…Vero? (do we really have to download that one too?) Not to mention our work, family, and social lives all while finding time for freelance or personal work. With all of these influences, it can be hard not to feel lacking in at least one way.

In Episode 2: How to Find More Time to Practice, Dina and Irene touch upon the importance of finding a balance between all these facets of life. Irene expressed that in the past she had put all of her priorities at the same level of importance, leading her to feel anxious and unfulfilled in her artistic life.

Upon taking a step back, she learned to spread out her obligations, leaving room to rest and focus on herself. Another technique for managing stress is how Dina identified her top priorities, health, and family. Creating this ranking system permitted her to put things aside without feeling guilty.

What about those darker thoughts? The kind of whispers that tells us that we can’t do it, our dreams won’t come true, and we aren’t good enough. What do we do when anxiety has paralyzed us, has replaced our imagination with doubt and our joy for art with fear?

Following the months after my graduation from art school, I experienced some of the most severe doubts in my artistic ability I had ever faced. I didn’t draw because I told myself I was lazy, burnt out from school, and that I wasn’t ready. But in reality, I was afraid to transition from art student to a professional artist. 

Very slowly, and with many missteps, I learned how to cut myself slack for not being perfect. It was only when I relieved myself of the pressure of having to face the world as a “real” artist that I was able to do what I love most again.

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How to turn your struggle into a campaign to raise awareness?

The intimidation of a blank canvas or even stresses outside of art can be like a fog over our creativity. Pranita Kocharekar, an illustrator, graphic designer, and letterer based out of Mumbai, India, has been open about her experiences with anxiety in the past. In a statement she gave to Women of Illustration, Kocharekar explains her current relationship with anxious feelings. 

“It is really hard to work your creative juices when you’re anxious. A lot of us try pushing the anxiety away to be able to focus better and harder. But I believe that when we allow the anxiety to be there and face it fearlessly that it can help letting it pass. By the end of the day, no problem can be bigger than ourselves, and that thought alone keeps me going!” 

Beyond learning to coexist with anxiety rather than fighting against it, Kocharekar has been able to make a difference in the lives of others with her work.   

When you suffer from an invisible illness, one that carries a stigma, it can be hard not to feel isolated which often perpetuates one's condition. That’s why it is so important to take notice when an artist speaks about her experiences to raise awareness. 

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In her series “Is that You?”, Artist Kocharekar illustrates her and her friend’s experiences with anxiety in a specific, straightforward way that is in stark contrast to the abstract way the topic is often discussed. Beautifully rendered and charmingly relatable, Kocharekar’s drawings clarify what anxiety looks like in the day to day. 

In an interview she gave with Bustle about this series, Kocharekar explains her motive behind her work: “the series was an attempt to spread awareness about the emotions and feelings of an anxious person, not the symptoms.” 

When we humanize anxiety in this way, talk about the what and not just the why, it can connect our experiences on a personal level and raise the kind of awareness that is more comprehensive. 


This article was written by one of our amazing volunteers

Grace Emmet
Illustrator
Boston, Massachusetts
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