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iv. time away from your art

Most artists’ biographies include one or more periods of time in which they're not as actively engaging with their art form.

Sometimes these periods are health-induced; something familiar to all singers is the classic upper respiratory infection that means having to take a break from practicing or cancel gigs.

Sometimes these periods are circumstantial, because other things in life get in the way or have to take precedence or priority.

They might even be chosen, like when an artist decides to step away from their medium due to experiencing prolonged frustration, dissatisfaction, or burn out. 

These phases might be short, spanning the length of a sinus infection or a two-week vacation.

They could, alternatively, span over years or become more permanent, like when a person retires from their craft with no intention of returning.

Many of the great artists of history have taken space from their art at some point.

For an artist, separation from art an take a variety of forms and look many different ways. 

My story is different from your story which is different from their/his/her story. 

In my experience, though, one thing tends to be true across the board:

If art is in a person, it doesn’t go away. 

I envision art like an energy, or, all the different types of arts as infinitesimal amount of energies, floating around in the atmosphere. 

At some point, an art energy chooses a home in the form of a person like you or me, swoops their way into that home, and settles there.

A person can become occupied by art at any point in time: as a child, a teen, an adult, even in old age. 

It could choose anyone. 

...And when it comes, it comes.

It resides for a while, filling its recipient home with beauty, or love, or creativity, or something sparkly, or sometimes even with anguish or despair.

It leaves traces of itself all over the house: it eats and makes a crumbly mess on the couch, takes off and leaves its shoes in whatever room it feels like, and starts to get moody if it doesn’t receive enough attention.

Then, after it’s made enough noise and stirred things up to a satisfying degree, it grows tired of its lifestyle and asks to be let outside. 

It wants some fresh air.

Wants to show itself to the neighbors, to the people in the grocery store.

This is the time when art wants out, and it is when we begin to express ourselves in an art form.

It can be a terrifying, unsettling experience.

It can be a euphoric, freeing experience. 

It can look like a messy mess, 

like beautiful beauty, 

like a beautiful mess.

And, for the artist, it can feel absolutely necessary to do.

After a time, after a walk, or a trip to the store, or a vacation, art tends to come back to our home, knocking on the door, wanting free dinner again.

So, what do we do with art when it seems to have lost interest in participating in home activities?

When it hides out somewhere in the basement and doesn’t want to talk to anyone?

Or what about art that, for logistical or health reasons, cannot get out of bed for awhile?

Does it find a way to survive and get outside for a walk again?

Yes, I believe it does.

The period of my life in which I felt furthest from my art spanned over a lot of my twenties. 

When I moved to Germany at age 23, I had made a conscious choice to shift my focus to other things for a while, things like learning a language, seeing new parts of the world, and getting to know a new culture.

In doing so, I experienced some really memorable, life-changing events. 

Despite the choice I made after my studies to move to Germany and not immediately enter the music profession, I still found myself deeply wanting to access my art, but I felt that it was inaccessible.

Art briefly came out of hiding in 2017 after a heartbreak, allowing me to write and sing a killer emo song for a few days, and then it quietly snuck back downstairs and turned off the light again. 

When my art decided to take a long snooze, it had endured five years of being treated with a lack of understanding and a lot of force.

Receiving a music degree and balancing the demands of the lifestyle of a musician while actually feeling quite disconnected from music meant that art no longer had any say in how it moved around my house.

It was required to go outside all the time whether it wanted to or not.

So, when it finally said: “thanks very much, but that's enough for me” and stopped engaging with me for a while, it was ready for a break.

If you’re struggling with what feels like the loss of your art, I would like to encourage you by sharing my belief that it is still in your home.

When things get dusty, or covered in mud, or too messy to clean all at once, or filled with new people or experiences or demands, it can often appear as though art has disappeared altogether. 

Art might need a break from you for a moment, or it might sense that you need a break from it and is giving you some space. 

It tends to be perceptive and gracious that way. 

If art chose you, however, I believe it will join you again for dinner when the time is right, as long as you open the door for it and invite it back up to the table. 

I see art more these days, usually on art’s terms. 

Art seems to be the boss most of the time. 

The times we have reconnected feel in and of themselves like home. 

Like the truest, most authentic version of myself.

If you are currently experiencing a break from your art, whether a chosen break, a circumstance-specific break, or a break for a reason you don’t really even understand, I would love to share a few thoughts with you:

  1. Art is sensitive and tends to shows itself in the quiet moments. It could be that things in your home are loud and art needs to recuperate. If you build some space in your life for rest, regeneration, silence, and stillness, art might be more likely to appear of its own accord again. (The longer I write the more I wonder if art might actually just be a cat.)

  2. Art can engage with you in multiple forms. When I had COVID last month and was unable to sing, I listened to endless amounts of symphonies, sonatas, and concertos. In periods of my life in which I didn’t want to sing, I found joy in playing other instruments, particularly the piano. Perhaps art wants to show a different side of itself to you right now while certain parts of it are taking a break. 

  3. You can engage with your art in a variety of ways. It's a similar idea as the second one. When we have to take a break from art due to an illness or injury, it is typically not one we choose ourselves; rather, one that happens when it is inconvenient and frustrating. This can be a time to engage with your art in other ways: researching and learning about other artists, performers, composers, or writers, reading inspiring books, gathering ideas and inspiration for healthier times, or practicing or making art mentally. 

  4. Art is influenced by everything else you do. All of the living you are doing when you are experiencing space from your art will later influence the way you make art. All the freeing, interesting, intense, thrilling things you experience are informing your humanity. When you want to, or can, spend time with your art again, you’ll have more to share and express because of these experiences.

  5. Art likely hasn’t permanently left. If it chose your home, it isn’t going to forget your address. If you choose to kick art out because you’re tired of it and have no space left, this is a different matter. This is an entirely valid, sometimes necessary choice. Don’t be surprised, though, if it tries to break down your door sometime in the future. 

If this resonates with you, I would like you to know that you are not alone on this path and though it might feel frustrating, saddening, or confusing, there can be transformation in your relationship with art with space and time.

Wherever you may find yourself on the journey, take heart that art is in you!

With some time and if you want to and are willing to make space, it will be ready to meet you where you are.


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