Beating the post-show blues
An artist asks:
I have a question about how to maintain confidence after a show. I wonder about post-exhibition blues – do they hit when you slow down, or after the buzz of a particularly good show, when everything goes back to normal, or is it after a difficult show, when your work has been totally misunderstood? After my first show I was fine, then I moved onto the next quickly, and didn’t have time to take a break. After this last show, all the buzz from the first one is gone, all the positive comments and sales have been forgotten, and now it’s just the bad stuff playing over and over. Is this normal? And if it is, how do I deal with it?
This is a great question, as it applies not only to visual artists but creatives of all kinds. Each time I perform, my dance teacher posts links to articles about how to deal with post-performance blues. The day after exhibition openings in my gallery I feel terribly physically, and need to bunker down for a couple of days – and it’s not even my work on show! It happens to writers after they submit their manuscripts or even articles to the publisher; to musicians, actors and dancers after performing; and to people who work behind the scenes in the arts who form a buzz and a camaraderie with their colleagues that’s all gone as soon as the project is over. The first thing to know is that it is completely normal!
When you exhibit, perform, or put yourself out there creatively, there’s usually a huge investment, in terms of money, time, creativity and emotional energy. There’s a big build up, anticipation, and the rush that happens on the night, when you’re the star and everyone wants to talk to you or congratulate you or buy your work. You experience a massive surge of adrenaline, and it’s an amazing feeling that you wish could go on forever. Instead, the next day you feel a bit flat, and then the day after that too. You might feel disappointed, frustrated, bored, tired or restless, or even have physical symptoms like headaches, nausea and sensitivity to sound or light. This is normal! It’s what happens after the adrenaline rush is over, and your body is trying to re-set itself.
The other thing to consider is that no two exhibitions are ever going to be the same. There will be different work, a different audience, and even being in a different space with the work hung differently can change how you and your work are received. As with all creative practices, there will be good times and bad times. You’ll have a good exhibition, then an okay one, then a great one and then a bad one. It sucks, but it’s also normal. There are so many tastes and opinions out there that you’ll never please everyone. If you are happy with the work you’ve produced (and have hopefully made a few sales!), then that’s what matters. What is important to focus on when you’re feeling low on confidence is what you can control, like doing the best work you’re capable of and looking after yourself in between each show, rather than worrying about things outside your control, such as what people think of you.
Unfortunately you’re never going to stop that post-exhibition crash from happening, and you’ll never have a 100% success rate with exhibitions. But there are some things you can do to help you prepare, cope with, and recover from both of these things:
Accept that this is normal. It happens to almost all creative people after they have put their work out into the world. There’s nothing wrong with you, and it will pass with time. You asked if different situations made it better or worse, but honestly I think the post-show blues happen after both good and bad experiences.
Take time to recover. In your question you mentioned several shows back to back. Ideally, you would have enough time in between to sit with your feelings, do some self care and build up back to your normal routine, although I know this isn’t always possible. Next time, if you can, see if you can let yourself have the downtime that your mind and body are desperately craving.
Self care. This is different for everyone, so you have to find the thing that works for you. It could be Netflix, a bushwalk, a bath, baking, drawing, having a massage – whatever you find nourishing and makes you feel good about yourself. Self-care also includes looking after yourself by eating well, getting enough rest, and remembering to keep moving. After my post-show blues, I spend about two-thirds of the day watching movies, and then I get up and do things like sewing my dance costumes, writing or baking. After a bit of relaxation, feeling productive (and creative) makes me feel good about myself again. Find what works for you and stick with it.
Remember the good stuff. Can you keep a file or notebook and fill it with all the compliments, positive reviews, awesome sales figures, and other things that represent what an amazing achievement you’ve just pulled off? Then next time someone gives you a hard time or you feel down, you can pull out your book of goodness and remind yourself of how awesome you are.
Slowly get back to your routine. Take a few days to recover and do some self care, but then think about getting back to your routine. The lead up to the exhibition was probably hectic, so it’s likely you haven’t been doing anything in a routine way for a while. It’s important to build up slowly, so there’s not another shock to the system. Routine could include things like eating and sleeping properly, carving out creative time and starting your next project, having family time, working your side gig, or whatever routine looks like for you. Re-establishing patterns will help you recover and re-set.
Prepare for it to happen again. Finally, it helps going into your next exhibition to remember that you will very likely crash all over again after the show, or there will be people who don’t like or understand your work, and that this is normal. If you can remind yourself that it’s normal and will pass, and set up some nice self-care things in advance for when the crash comes, this will help the post-show blues to pass more smoothly and quickly.