Wanderings of an artist in the trenches.

Art and Depression

I have a student in my illustration class that had a rough day recently. In class it was obvious that he was having a hard time coping with something. It was also obvious that it wasn’t something totally to do with the class. This guy is really good, a serious student, excited about art and what the world has to offer, so it was surprising to see him in this state. After speaking with him for just a few minutes I could see his eyes getting wet and he got quieter. But he’d given me enough to go on. He was struggling with not being able to come up with suitable solutions to concepts/problems for some of his various assignments. We talked through it all and I told him that he’d loaded too high of an expectation in himself for a problem/assignment that I saw as a simple continuation or follow through of the assignment before, where I try to get the students to utilize what they learned and apply it to something of their own. Basically an open assignment wherein they would use the reference photography they’d shot the week before.

But, being an overachiever he had heaped incredible amounts of expectations on himself instead of just enjoying the use of the reference.

Anyway, that led me to write this post. Having dealt with depression pretty much all my life, and observing the amount of depression I see in so many creative individuals, I thought I’d ruminate on it all.

Depression runs in my family, though I didn’t know that until a number of years ago when my mother told me that my father struggled with it his whole life. That was news to me. My father was the backbone of our family and there were only a couple of times when I saw my father in moments of emotional pain (the funeral of my aunt — his sister, and the death of his mother and father). When I think back on my own childhood and later adulthood, I realize that I’ve been personally living with depression pretty much my whole life. Of course I didn’t know that, and in true kid fashion just figured that was the way things were. We know that depression is heritable. I wonder, too, if this put me more into a position of emotional sensitivity and more prone to “feeling” things and being drawn to the visual arts. I don’t know.

The usual perception is that art’s easy and that an artist’s life is full of enjoyment and playtime. That certain people are born with artistic skills, which, of course, is tantamount to saying that one didn’t have to work for the tremendous skills one might have. Ludicrous.

Is it fun? Yes, it is. Quite often, in fact. But it also depends on what one’s idea of fun is. Is it fun like children in a playground laughing beyond belief and running about in a fog of happiness. No, not really. At least not for me and the artists that I know. It’s fun in the sense that one’s on an exploration or safari and the journey is a good one. Lots of heady anticipation of what could come of the current piece on the board or easel. The energy level can be extremely high and you hit what my teacher Barron Storey called “Zero Time”, where time basically disappears and all focus is entirely on the piece. One wakes up from a sort of daze in these instances and wonders where all the time went. This zoning out seems to happen less for me now than it did when I was younger. But it’s an incredibly heady experience, even if discombobulating at times.

But it’s hard stuff. Damn hard. An artist friend of mine, Tommy Lee Edwards said once, “I wish I could bleed from the eyes every time I do this, so there’d be some kind of physical manifestation of how hard this shit is!” It’s not all fun and games to be sure. Anyone who says that they can’t draw a straight line with a ruler SHOULD know how hard it is to do this. The quip suggests they’ve tried to draw before and it was too hard so they gave up.

Interestingly, there’s evidence now refuting the idea of prodigies. Studies have shown that the reason one becomes a Bobby Fisher, or a Jimi Hendrix is due to an all-encompassing focus on the part of the individual to pursue their one true passion. Hendrix slept with his guitar. It was everything to him and he practiced constantly. Hence, he was exceptionally good at it. Not gifted. Not necessarily touched by angels to do this. He pursued it with dogged determination, probably ignoring a lot of other things that life offered and threw in his path along the way. It. Is. Hard. Work.

Hard work.

When it’s good, it cannot be beat. When it’s bad, it can be the worst thing on the planet. So much is wrapped up in these pieces that we do. You have a vision in your head and what ultimately gets put down is a pale imitation of what you wanted to achieve. Hence the need to continue pushing toward that unachievable goal. And that kind of constant letdown takes its toll. There’s also the perks, mind you, that even though they don’t live up to what you envisioned, one can still be satisfied, sometimes extremely happy even. It’s not as though the work’s not constantly getting better. It is. That’s reason for feeling good. But there’s a cumulative effect of constantly being creative, of pushing one’s own buttons over and over and over again. Riding extremely high high’s and crashing headfirst into self-doubt with deplorable regularity.

For myself, I find that regardless of how anxious I might become when I sit down to work with the intimidating white of a sheet of paper or canvas, it’s also exhilarating. I can be depressed, down in the dumps, and though I have to force myself to sit down and get started, once I do I get to enter the zone. It’s the paint that does it. Once I start laying the paint down I can get lost in it. Troubles, at least for awhile, fade, and my love of paint comes forth.

Painting and drawing can be a wonderful refuge from depression. And the effects of having a good day drawing or painting can linger for hours, maybe even days, if I’m lucky. So there is comfort in the work, which can be an incredible salve. Most times.

Interestingly, not that I haven’t noticed it before, writing does that for me too. But that’s a creative outlet as well, isn’t it. What’s also interesting is that many of my friends who are capable artist’s all, whose work serves as inspiration to legions of fans and viewers, are extremely unsure of themselves in many ways. It would surprise many people to know that. But they are generally always questioning themselves and where the work is going and have incredible self-doubts about their work. And that’s a motivator, ultimately, and they are able to work with this monkey on their backs. In fact, they soar beautifully with that monkey on their backs. One wonders if they didn’t have that leering, simian passenger if they would do as well as they do and if the work would suffer from its loss. But that’s not to say they also aren’t confident in what they’re doing too. It’s up and down.

I know I can very easily talk/think myself into sinking deeply into depressive states. I do it fairly regularly, on the inside. Outside, I can function and usually put on a great air of jocular camaraderie, but inside I’m numb, though it’s not noticeable (at least I don’t think it is) by anyone.This can go on for days, weeks sometimes. And my work suffers because of it. When I finally do sit down to work, I crank and can get a LOT of stuff done. Paintings and drawings will just explode out of me. Then another period of silence from the muse and the need. That’s when the guitar playing starts, songs get written and lots of writing gets done. Though, incidentally, all the writing I’ve been doing lately on the blog hasn’t been from that, funnily enough.

Interesting, also, is the idea of art therapy. Many individuals get lots of help with depression through art therapy, though it’s said that being an artist actually gets in the way of benefitting from this particular form of therapy. Go figure. However, many creative individuals were/are able to purge their personal demons through their works. Apparently Goethe in writing ‘The sorrows of young Werther’, exorcised his own suicidal impulses and thoughts, probably saving his own life. So it’s not as though there are no mental or emotional benefits to being creative.

Drawing and painting are forms, I believe, of meditation. And as a young man I reveled in my solitude. It was heavenly! I entered that world and was immediately gone. It was just a great, happy, exciting place to be. The struggle to get better pushed me. It was frustrating, that struggle, but one I loved, absolutely LOVED to dive into, because I could see the immediate results of the work. Yet, as I’ve grown older that alone-ness weighs heavier and heavier.

I’m a fairly outgoing person. I love to talk to people and I love to hear about people’s lives. I thrill to any stories about other’s childhoods. And thank God for my teaching because it forces me to get out and be in a social setting. Being with the students is a salve for me. It’s a way of getting to give something back and to relate to “real life” and recharge my batteries. Without it I would spend my days indoors and in my head. Not in and of itself a bad thing, but it can be bad.

I read an article early last year in the New York Times by Jonah Lehrer, “Depression’s Upside” February 25, 2010, (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html) which mentions that depression seems to be fairly prevalent in the arts (Vincent van Gogh immediately comes to mind). Why? Is it that creatives are more prone to questioning so much about the world and themselves, and having incredibly high expectations of themselves? If so, why the drive to continue to push, to really reach for what seems fairly unattainable? Is it the monastic existence of so many creatives that fuels this? The article goes on to state that for some depression is a clarifying force. Again, Vincent comes to mind and one wonders if he would have produced such profound work without depression acting as this clarifying force. The article mentions Darwin’s bouts with depression and the effect they had on his work. Sometimes, Darwin wrote, it is the sadness that informs as it “leads an animal to pursue that course of action which is most beneficial.” The darkness was a kind of light. As Aristotle stated in the fourth century B.C. “that all men who have attained excellence in philosophy, in poetry, in art and in politics, even Socrates and Plato, had a melancholic habitus; indeed some suffered even from melancholic disease.”

The article discusses new ways that some scientists and doctors are thinking about depression, reinterpreting it. One thought that seems fairly radical, yet I believe is true, is that depression has a secret purpose and is our mind’s way of healing itself. The article contended that the mind is not prone to “pointless programming bugs.” The body is remarkably resilient and has so many defense mechanisms for healing itself. The mind is no different. In moments of great psychological blows, the mind descends into depression, circling the wagons to better deal with the situation. It enters into weird loops of thought, (what scientists call a ruminative cycle — which derives from the Latin word for “chewed over”) working and reworking the material over and over. It is known that people with ruminative tendencies are more likely to become depressed, which might explain why creatives have a higher incidence of depression.

Anyway, the person this is happening to retreats from most contact and spends quite a lot of time sleeping. The theory is that the mind is working out the problem in its own way, a subconscious healer. It will continue to work the problem until it has parsed it out and solved it.

In my own case, after going through a painful divorce I’ve gone through a couple or three years of achingly bitter introspection and depression. The ruminative cycles have been working overtime. I’ve functioned okay, getting done the things I need to get done, teaching my classes etc. But the thread of my life these last few years has been the depression and the inner struggle to understand what had happened and where my life was going now. I basically went to ground. I wasn’t calling on my friends, and, luckily, they understood totally what was happening and gave me the understanding and the room to deal with it in my own way. This was to sort of close myself off and just wallow in the why’s and wherefor’s. Not totally a pity party, really, though there was certainly some of that floating about as well. Now, after all this introspection and wrassling with my own feelings of persecution, rejection, owning my own shit, etc. I believe I’ve come out of the other end a better person for it all. I’ve got my kids and love them tremendously and they keep me grounded totally. I’ve spent a great deal of time reconnecting with the things that I was all about before getting married.

One thing that kept me sane was pursuing my photography. Whenever I spent time with my children my cameras were cranking away. It was a way to catalog the growth of my children, and how time is incredibly fleeting. It got me out of doors with them on a regular basis and we had the best times together going firefly hunting and things like that. And I got them interested in it as well — they’ve both got the eye for it.

And piles and piles of writing. Some about the things going on in my head, my feelings etc. But also just projects that I’ve invested lots of time in. They all helped.

It’s interesting to note that the things that pull me out of my depressive states are not consistent. In one case quite awhile back I fell into a pretty great depression, and what pulled me out of it was writing more than painting or drawing. I wrote every day for a very, very long time. I wrote my entire blues book (still unpublished) during this particular spate of writing. I caught hell among some of my art friends who continually prodded me to get painting and drawing. The thing was I didn’t feel the need for drawing at all. Yet, creating pictures with words, using language, was just what I needed. I had so much to get off my chest and it found voice through writing. It was wonderful. At other times I’ve grounded myself through the art. Recently, working on my show for Belgium and Paris gave me clarity and focus. I was enjoying painting in a way I had not for quite awhile.

My student was able to shift gears and get back to cranking out beautiful work, but not without having gone through a period of self-reflection and, more than likely, no little amount of inner turmoil. The prevailing orthodoxy these days is to immediately medicate. Yet with this new science one wonders if waiting for a little bit might not be better in order to let the mind try and heal itself. Of course, any prolonged period could be detrimental to the overall well-being of an individual.

For myself I’m on a small dose of an anti-depressant as I’m chemically imbalanced. I’ve taken myself off of the medication at various times to no great detrimental effect. But being on it I know it takes the edge off the anxiety I sometimes feel. But I’m one who lives quite a bit in my head anyway and rumination is part of who I am and how I work. So I’ve learned, for the most part, to live with it all.

I do see it in my son. The divorce has hit him hardest. He feels things deeply and I tell him that it’s okay to be that way. Most people hide their feelings, bury things and as a result suffer problems later on. The only problem with feeling things deeply, of course, is that you feel things deeply, and it’s not always an easy row to hoe. But better that than not to feel at all. We talk a lot and I want him to know that reaching out is a good thing. That there are people who love him and are there for him.

So, anyway, just a few thoughts on this stuff. Just know that if you suffer from depression you should seek help and know that there are tons of people out there who are willing to listen and help in any way they can. The worst thing is to just keep it all bottled up and to feel that you’re adrift on a tiny boat in an awfully big, empty sea. That’s just not the case.

Dive into the things that fire you up in a good way. Love up on the art, the creative side of yourself because there’s more light there than not, and it is a road that moves forward.


ADDITION (February 4): This note from an ex student came to my email box yesterday, rather than the comments section, and I asked if it was okay to post it as it would maybe help others. So—

I wanted to start off by saying that I have missed you and I hope that you are well. I understand what it means to need to heal and please know that I have hoped for you to get to a better place in your life.

I have always had the utmost respect for you have been a fan of yours for a long time. Meeting you and later, getting to know you, was one of the greatest things in my life. I say this only because I don’t know if I have ever told you what your friendship meant to me.

Having said that, I wanted to thank you for writing on Art and Depression. I believe, at least for me, that it is one of those topics that it really helps to have someone else bring up. It is hard to admit to yourself that you have an issue and that you truly need help. Its a bit like the Emperor’s Clothes. I needed someone else to call him out for being naked.

About 6 months ago, I left Richmond, after leaving L.A and D.C. and everything I have ever started, and went back to live with my folks because I knew that I needed help.

I was in a pretty terrible place in my life and I felt that I needed to reboot. For years, my feelings and depression have impeded me in so many ways. It has kept me from valuable relationships with others and myself. More importantly, it has prevented me from really enjoying Art.

For the longest time, I was confused. It is so easy when something has you spinning in your head to question whether or not it is right for you. This doubt would give way to further depression and you know where I am going.
All I could think about was art but the thought of doing it only made me feel worse because I would begin to think, “everyone is so much better than me”, or “it’s too hard” or whatever the case may be. But I thought to myself, why is it that I can only think about art. why is it the one thing that I feel makes me feel so miserable all of the time was the only thing that could make me feel better.

It was a very hard thing for me to think about. I wanted a way to feel better. I had felt that I had wasted my education. I wasted the vast resources that I had in you and Sterling. I was lazy, unmotivated, unsure.
It took me a long time to get to a place where I could admit that there was something wrong and I needed to change.

I packed my stuff up, went back to my parents house and found the answer. When I got home, I found on the bookshelf, the copy of Enemy Ace that I had in my room. The copy that I had from High School. It was then that I was really struck. It made me think about everything that I had squandered. I let myself get in the way.

Looking at the book, I realized why we struggle. Why we labor. Why it is all worth it. It is all we know how to do, and if it is hard that means you are doing it right.

I had decided that I was not going to fight it anymore. I know what it is I need out of life and I need art. I need to get back to what it is I love most. I need to fight the laziness, and put the time in.

I have committed to starting over at square one. Do what makes me happy.
I left my parents house and moved to Austin. I wanted to start anew. Find myself, my voice, my art.

I hope that I can call on you in the future. I will continue to read your blog and be motivated and keep my path. You have helped me so much in the past and I felt that you should know that.

I hope to make you proud to call me a student and friend in the future.

All the best,

My response:

Man, thanks for the kind words. I miss hanging out with you, too. Let me tell you, you were one of the people that made Richmond a bearable, even fun place to be. I was in my own weird world of hurt while I was teaching there, which all came to a head when I came down here. But hanging with you and a few others kept my head on straight and allowed me to function and even have a pile of laughs in the process.

I’m glad that the post on Depression found you. Sorry that you’ve been going through some tough times. The good thing is that these tough times usually end up making us stronger, you know?

The thing you need to remember is that your drive for art really will sustain you, in the long run. Sometimes we get lost along the way. Happens to everyone. Really.

Doing what you did, in the end, was an extreme act of courage. You took control, man. That’s hard to do. Most don’t have the wherewithal to do it.

I know you’ll find a ton of inspiration in Austin. Are you going to be at the TAD studio or anything? You’ll instantly connect with the guys there. Great people all. Francis and Orlando, in particular, will keep your engine running on full-tilt boogie all the time.

You can certainly call on me anytime. The reason we sort of drifted apart in communication was all my doing. Being in a sort of similar place as you are now, I just went to ground. I’m only just now getting back on my feet and feel like I’m finally coming out of the other side on all the bullshit I’ve been through. Some of it was my own doing, of course, but bucket loads was not. Sorting through it all, the only sure thing is that I’ll never understand it. Never get the answers I desperately would like to know. So, wrapping my head around that was/is tough. Now I know I just have to take what I can get and move on.

I’ve been trying to reconnect with the things that always mattered to me. Reading comics again, READING again, writing more, playing guitar again, and loving my children more than is possible. Slow going, but still — going.

Anyway, Hell, man, I’ve never not been proud to call you an ex student or friend. I tried calling after I got your letter but I’m not sure if my number is current or not.

Hang in there and get in touch. Here’s my number:

Hey, do you mind if I post your letter on the blog? I can take your name off if you want. But I think it helps others to hear what we’re all going through.

Take care, ———! Keep on cranking! Would love to see some of the new work.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


50 responses

  1. Riko

    Thank you so very much! Wonderful insight and beautifully written.

    January 17, 2011 at 3:40 AM

    • Thanks for your reply, Riko. And thanks too for visiting the blog!


      January 18, 2011 at 10:59 PM

  2. Great insight George. :]

    January 17, 2011 at 6:22 AM

  3. another great post.

    I can relate.

    like you say though, it’s that same doubt and constant questioning, that constant need to push and push, that is probably responsible for producing all of history’s greatest artists.

    the monastic thing is great to get work done, but I know what you mean when you talk about how that head space can brew it’s own problems when it’s a constant and not an occasional thing. that’s when I know I need to get out and talk to people.

    I’ve been reading a lot about Matisse lately, and he would fall into enormous depressions over his work. actually, the entire impetus for him to paint was born out of a massive breakdown he had when he was around 20. after that he worked like a demon because he felt he HAD to make up for lost time. all his great experiments were heralded by enormous doubt, and this certainly wasn’t helped when his first works were being ripped apart by the critics and the public. but he still went on. he never let it stop him from moving forward. he did, and we have the work he left us as a result.

    I know Bonnard basically became a hermit towards middle age. his world revolved around his studio and Marthe and that was about it. his diaries have no insights to the man. talk about bottling things up…no wonder his canvases are so colorful! it had to express itself somewhere!

    Degas had the same thing happen to him. he let it consume him though and just turned into a bitter old man. Moreau locked himself away and only came out to teach towards the end of his life. Modigliani drowned himself in alcohol and opium. Picasso I’m sure had his own demons to contend with (especially Picasso!) but his public braggadocio covered it pretty well.

    it would be interesting if scientists dug in and did an actual study with all of this. too bad none of the above guys are still alive to be subjects!

    January 17, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    • Vincent,

      Cool additions! Yes! Your comments on Matisse are great because it’s always interesting to see how artists handle criticism. I love the Whistler quote: “Critics are the clanging of the bell as the train roars past!” Ha! It’s not as though critics who do not themselves paint don’t have something to say (we know they do) or that one shouldn’t take them seriously, but in truth, only another artist who has spent their life in pursuit of that same craft can truly know the benefits and pitfalls of that particular passion. And though critics carry a disproportionate amount of power to sway public opinion, one shouldn’t be painting to please the crowd in the first place. I paint for myself. My best work is for myself. And the voices I listen to after the fact are those artists whose work and knowledge I admire and value. Anything else is taken with a large grain of salt.

      You’re right on Bonnard also. His diaries are filled with meteorological notes from his walks and little color notes, but nothing about himself. It’s incredibly blasé really except for the color notes. But it does provide some kind of insight into his keen observation of the world about him.

      There is one book that has been loaned to me, but which I’ve not read yet, titled: “The Van Gogh Blues – The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression” by Eric Maisel, PH.D.
      The liner notes: “Vincent van Gogh, the icon of the tortured artist, cut off his own ear and spun out of control in his depression. Would he have benefited from Prozac or Zoloft? Possibly. Are all creative people — designers, writers, engineers, architects, dancers, others who seek to find meaning in their work — destined to end up like van Gogh? Not at all.

      “Men and women who seek to create meaning through their work are heroes in many ways. They have opted to matter. They lay their work as a veneer or top of the forces of meaninglessness and chaos, making them vulnerable to a unique kind of depression that often is not physiological and does not respond to pharmaceutical treatments.

      “The source of this depression is embedded in the creative process itself. Creative people often get depressed when they are unable to create or when their creative efforts fall short of their hopes. Even when they create successfully, they can get depressed due to a lingering sense that their work only temporarily disguises life’s apparent meaninglessness.

      “In order to counter this kind of depression, Dr. Eric Maisel says creators must become meaning experts, learning to navigate through the terrain of meaning. They must engage in a conversation with themselves about what is meaningful — and then work a plan to create that meaning. ‘The Van Gogh Blues’ contains all the information one needs to have this conversation and create a personalized meaning plan.

      ” The great news is that this can lead to liberation from depression, truly a self-created map out of depression. Despite the fact that we have no choice but to experience pain and suffering while being alive, we can choose to make sense of our time here, take it seriously, and stick to our plan to create the meaning we seek. We can force life to mean.”

      Anyway, as I mention, I’ve yet to read this book. But it does sound interesting.

      Thanks for responding, Vincent!

      January 17, 2011 at 5:49 PM

  4. Colin Sullivan

    George, I love you man! This is a great article! If i were to add my two cents, i would recommend regular aerobic exercise to combat depression. There’s a fascinating book written by john Medina called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School http://www.brainrules.net/about-brain-rules

    In it, Medina describes the role of the molecule BDNF http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BDNF in healthy nervous system functioning, and the many links to various neurological disorders such as depression, alzheimers, ect. The good news is, it only takes 3 times a week, 20 min intervals at 80% max heart rate to exponentially increase the levels of this vital molecule in the brain!

    It seems that evolution made our brains to function best under physiological stressors, (our ancestors having walked up to 12 miles a day!) Perhaps its not such a surprise that so many artists of the past have suffered from depression? We do sit around for long periods of time! After all, we have more than an arm to move around, the whole body is connected to the brain!

    Exercise positively affects cognition, including executive functions of the brain, spatial tasks and reaction times. Maybe exercise can actually make drawing that freehand straight line a little easier?! There are other things to consider, such as adequate sleep. I highly recommend going through them on the page linked above.

    I know there are always exceptions to the rule, and exercise wont work in every case, but it sure turned my life around! If I were teaching an art class, I would start the day with jumping jacks, then move on to the warm up drawings… the brain LOVES motion!

    Thanks for everything George. Keep up the amazing work!

    January 17, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    • Colin,

      You’ve nailed something in your response that I should have mentioned in my post. Its exclusion should tell you something about my own exercise plan. I do think that’s huge and don’t work enough of it into my own life, and haven’t for far too long. I began a few months ago to do some serious walking workouts and it totally helps to clear the mind and get that heart pumping. It’s not hard to see the benefits that come with a good exercise program.


      January 17, 2011 at 5:52 PM

  5. Eli M.

    This was a great read. And definitely gives me alot to think about. Thanks for writing this.

    January 18, 2011 at 1:35 AM

    • Thanks, Eli!

      Eli’s one of my proofreaders and has seen many of these posts in their initial fragmentary stages. He’s always taken the time to give me great feedback and push me to get these out here onto the blog.


      January 18, 2011 at 11:03 PM

  6. Tarrah B.

    This gave me a lot to think about, insightful read, thank you for taking the time to write this. I can connect with a lot of what was said as I’m sure many creative thinkers can.

    January 18, 2011 at 4:15 AM

    • Thanks, Tarrah! Glad you’re enjoying the bog! Keep up the great work in class!


      January 18, 2011 at 10:32 PM

  7. chris

    George..it’s very kind of you to share your personal experiences with us.

    I have two random thoughts. Perhaps the reason artists land somewhere between brooding and depressed so often is due to the amount of introspection we do as we search for inspiration. Obviously we draw on inspiration from a variety of external stimuli, but it’s how it affects us internally and why it’s affecting us in the first place. That always fascinates me.

    The second thought is just how important some kind of physical release for my sanity level! I’m an avid hockey player and I try to get out there twice a week for the simple fact that it allows me to lower my stress level and vent. It encourages me to focus on the external for a period of time as well. I know it’s crucial for my well being because whenever we hit 6 day weeks on production, I have to miss my games and after 4 weeks of this, I get noticeably irritable.

    It’s so easy to be all consumed by the piece you are working on. I can animate on one shot for ages. But I have just learned that over the years, stepping away and forcing myself to do something different not only makes my work stronger (even though I’m on it less), but makes me at least feel more balanced.

    Of course..all this is very personal. It might not work for everybody.


    January 18, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    • Thanks again, Chris, for another interesting note. It is interesting how what we look for in inspiration affects us in different ways.

      You’re spot on with the need for physical release. When I was living in Brooklyn, and later in North Carolina, one of the things that was incredibly rewarding in that sense was playing softball. My buddies and I would hit the ballfields in Prospect Park where a pile of Jazz musicians would gather to play pickup softball games. We’d bring our gloves and get in line to divvy up teams. We’d play at least two heavy duty games those days and would head home as night was falling, tired but invigorated in a way that climbing around in one’s skull for days on end cannot compare. It made sitting at the drawing board or easel much easier to take for longer periods.

      And you’re also right, in that it’s wacky how stepping away sometimes can actually aid in solving problems and artistic growth. Just because I might not be painting at a given moment, doesn’t mean that my mind isn’t working on some painting problem, or parsing out different ways of approaching a particular passage in a painting.

      Thanks again!

      January 18, 2011 at 10:39 PM

  8. George,
    Thanks for the great read. Being new to doing art, I have realized how high my dreams and goals are. It is hard to appreciate the little victories amid the total picture. I feel as if I am in a constant state of discontent.

    Doing art keeps me going though. I always try to do my best and in the end I am happy when I can give my best. I can get burnt out when I try my hardest to make my life and my art life make sense, but I end up failing at one or both. Hopefully I will find a place where I can juggle my life and still feels as if I am giving my art my best.

    Thank you again,
    -Evan Norman

    January 18, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    • Evan,

      Thanks for scoping out the blog!

      I keep telling students that they should be revelling in the moment because in many ways they’re lucky. Right now, though it doesn’t always feel like it, you’re making rapid strides in your growth as an artist. Since you’re struggling with the basic knowledge and skill-sets, training your eyes and your hands to do your bidding the plateaus are frequent. You’re learning how to crawl, then walk. Forget about talking! Later you get to make noises, then form vowels, etc. You’re certainly not going to sing arias.

      Our teachers always told us that it only gets harder the more you know. We thought they were pulling our legs. But in hindsight I get what they’re saying. Right now your knowledge is limited. You only have a finite set of skills. Your options for where to go with a piece are dictated by how little you know. The more you know, the more options you have, thus, more decisions to make and more possible directions to take. The possibilities are endless! What to say and how to say it?

      Trying to make sense of it all, life and art, is a full time job. Just when you think you might have it all figured out, life will step in and throw you a curve ball. Believe me. I’m still trying to pick myself up from the last one. 🙂


      January 18, 2011 at 10:52 PM

  9. Hey George,

    I’m so glad that you’re writing in your blog again. This post really has hit home with me, as I, too, inherited my father’s chemical imbalance and have suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety my entire life. I’ve been working on finding my way out recently, and I really appreciated reading about the new theory that the mind is trying to resolve itself. I’ve been on different anti-depressants throughout the past 10 years or so, but I stopped taking them about 8 months ago. It’s been hard, but I’m amazed at, despite how lost I was feeling, how much stronger I feel now not just about my work, but about life, too. Making art has filled itself as my passion again, and my focus now is better than ever before, simply by going through the feelings of doubt, inadequacy and melancholy.

    It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone in this, especially from one of my favorite and most influential teachers. I’m sure that that student is benefiting more than they could ever say from your guidance and I sincerely thank you for continuing to inspire, empathize and understand in the beautifully unique way that you do.

    Thank you always,


    January 18, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    • Sarah,

      Man, I’m glad you’re enjoying the writing and all. And thanks so much for the kind words about my teaching and everything. I’ve been lucky because all these great students I’ve had make me look good. Ultimately, they’re the kind of students who were hungry and really going after the things they truly cared about. They’d make any teacher look good! 🙂

      But, yes, knowing that other’s are going through the same stuff certainly helps in dealing with one’s own stuff. It’s not unique to any one of us, and that’s a good thing!

      Thanks again! Hope all’s well!


      January 18, 2011 at 10:57 PM

  10. Carmen Michele

    This truth you’ve written will benefit many. I only hope you’ll get to see some of its positive impact.
    Thank you for these healing words.

    January 21, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    • Carmen,

      Thanks for visiting and replying!

      I think the arts can be incredibly healing. The problem is that we don’t speak our minds enough sometimes and let others know where we are and what’s running through us at a given time. I see so much stuff out there that seems to come from some well of anger or hatred and all that, but they offer no alternatives. It’s easy to bitch about things, but so much harder to be positive and offer up something that’s honest and in good spirit. I hope that the blog comes close to helping in some small way like that.

      And I’ve been very lucky and gratified by all the warm, heartfelt replies to this post. I have definitely gotten to see some of its positive impact. 🙂

      Thanks again,


      January 25, 2011 at 5:15 PM

  11. Hi George,

    This is a wonderful post. Even though logically I know that so many people have these kinds of feelings and experiences, nonetheless I always feel alone when I’m down on myself. It’s so helpful when someone else puts into words similar things that have swirled through my brain in fragments. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    January 23, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    • Carly,

      Thanks for your kind words. If you’re feeling down on yourself just reach out and know that there are others out there who feel the same and are willing to help.

      Take care!

      January 25, 2011 at 5:10 PM

  12. Great article, George. While reading it I was able to realize a lot about myself that I’ve never been able to understand fully. As an artist I’ve been slowing down, and I think the real reason is that I’m afraid of having bad drawing days. When I draw well, I get very very high, but when I can’t seem to get done with my hand what my brain wants, I get very very low. In effect I am afraid to draw at all most of the time because I set a level too high for myself and feel worse every time I miss.

    I don’t know what the trick will be to enjoy drawing again. I am, however, very grateful to see your work and read about your trials. I will keep pushing myself for now. Thanks !

    January 23, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    • Aaron,

      Thanks very much for visiting and replying!

      I know exactly what you mean and I’m sure most everyone reading this site can relate to your dilemma. That sense of frustration and fear comes in waves for just about everyone, I believe, whether they admit it or not. But for myself I’ve found that throwing caution to the wind and just diving in can get me past quite a lot. What I’ve learned in going out landscape painting is not to be wrapped up in having a nice piece at the end of it all. I don’t go out with any preconceptions about what kind of pieces I’ll produce or if I’ll even finish any of them. This leaves me open to enjoy the process of moving the paint around.

      Of course, I still find myself wanting the pieces to turn out nicely and all that, and I can still get frustrated. But when I let go of the need to have beautiful finished pieces, something strange happens — the work just happens. I find that I enjoy the process more. I can actually enjoy being in the open air with its attendant smells and sounds. That “letting go” is license to just “be there” and let what happens happen.

      Just get in there and draw. Don’t go to it with any set levels. Just work for you. You don’t need to show it to anyone. Let whatever wants to happen just happen. Be a passenger for a change and see where that gets you. Just don’t give a damn. This is just about seeing what happens on the page. Nothing more, nothing less.

      Give it a shot and let me know if it opens any avenues up for you.

      Thanks again!

      January 25, 2011 at 5:09 PM

  13. Hey George!

    I don’t know what to say…Thanks so much for writing this, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with me at the Academy when I was going through stuff and now, here. I too have struggled consistently with depression since my teens. This article was extremely encouraging and can’t express how lucky and fortunate I am to have had you as a teacher and more so a friend.

    It’s also helpful to now be able to explain a little better what “kind” of fun being an artist is. 🙂

    thanks again,


    January 23, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    • Will,

      For someone who doesn’t know what to say, you say it with incredible sincerity and grace. 🙂 I’m glad to call you friend as well. Know that you were the kind of student that every teacher dreams of. Your hard work and positive energies are infectious. And if that weren’t enough your sincerity was always obvious.

      Hope all’s well!


      January 25, 2011 at 5:00 PM

  14. Alexandra

    Thanks, George. It’s good to read this and hear your thoughts, and know that there’s someone out there who gets that connection between creative expression and some desperate attempt to survive and connect with something real inside oneself.

    January 23, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    • Alexandra,
      Thanks for reading through the blog and responding!

      Every one of us working at being artists are taking such a great risk in exposing ourselves not only to the whims of the world, but also sometimes to our darker interior worlds as well, and offer it up for others to pick through. That takes a lot of guts in the face of so much adversity in the world today.

      What’s nice about what you say in your reply is that we’re all connecting and realizing that there are many more of us out there who do “get it”, and with that there is comfort and gentle power. We just keep on keeping on. 🙂


      January 25, 2011 at 4:55 PM

  15. Hi George,
    I am a recent (this month) subscriber to the VLP website and long time admirer of your work. One of the reasons I was attracted to the VLP was seeing your name in the roster.
    I want to thank you for a beautiful heartfelt post. One which I can very much relate to. I recently watched the demo of the ink/mixed media drawing of the soldier who died in a tree. I was moved to tears. You so captured the sadness of the event in the lines of your pen and ink, and yet the incredible beauty of the piece is so powerful.
    I can relate to your post because I have similar depression and other related issues and it has derailed me more than once in my life, and art. Things have gotten better for me over time, and healing has come my way in many forms, not the least of which has been getting to be immersed in art materials and the process of picture making.
    Very glad to be part of the VLP!

    January 24, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    • Marlene,
      Thanks so much for your reply! Glad you’ve joined the VLP. I think you’ll not find a better place to be, with a nice rich community of artists all striving for the same goals. I plan on being much more involved there and getting to enjoy the diverse talents there. I hope you find it rewarding.

      I’m glad that the demo you watched had an emotive quality that hit a nerve with you. It’s nice to know that sometimes I get it right. 🙂 The mood and emotion are of prime importance to me when working on any piece of art. They are the things that are at the forefront of my energies very early on in the process, so I’m glad it came through.

      I’m glad, too, that the post has found so many sympathetic hearts. We’re all out here just trying to be. But we sometimes forget that we’re not alone and that there are multitudes that share the same journey. When we compare notes we’re able to bring all the disparate beautiful notes together into one sublime chorus.

      Enjoy the VLP and have a blast wallowing in all those art materials! 🙂


      January 25, 2011 at 4:51 PM

  16. Marie Provence

    Great post again, George. I’m in the last semester of my senior year and receiving questions from everyone about what I’ll be doing next. The leap from college to the real world is an intimidating one, regardless of my perspective on the future. I’m learning to cope by taking it one day at a time, one step at a time. I’m making progress even with the minor setbacks of self-doubt (as you mentioned) and occasionally freezing up at the thought of painting.

    Anyway, thanks for being an inspiration to get through it all. I sure do miss the Academy setting!


    January 25, 2011 at 10:11 PM

    • Marie,

      Thanks for writing in! I can totally relate! I remember feeling totally cut off from the world and my friends upon graduating. Totally adrift! But it does even itself out. Like everything it takes time.

      You did some really great work at the Academy, so you know it’s not whether the work is solid or not. It’s just something that most people go through at this stage of their careers. Hang in there!


      January 30, 2011 at 4:08 PM

  17. Doug Chayka

    George, beautiful words, I miss ya, man! Your students and friends are lucky to have you on their side.

    January 30, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    • Thanks, Doug!

      Yeah, wish you were still here. Your students, too, are very lucky to have you there. I’ve been able to enjoy the benefits of the students you taught while you were here. Makes my life WAY easier! 🙂


      January 30, 2011 at 4:00 PM

  18. Hi, Just came across your blog and piece on Jeffery Catherine Jones, linked from some where :), found it very moving, I’d followed JCJ on Face book, her work was always great and I admired just how open and honest she was.
    As a “fan” of your work since Enemy Ace I thought I’d look at your older posts and… well this one on depression has sort of stopped me in my tracks …with out going into details it’s been a bit of a bad day today and one I should have got some painting done but sort of got knocked off track as it were…
    Having suffered for, well longer than I like to admit, artist being honest about these things and “talking” about it helps…Great post

    June 9, 2011 at 4:42 PM

  19. Hi George, I live in Northern Ireland and I have read this blog. It strikes me as really amazing that, although we live on opposite sides of the world, we share so much. I had created a blog called Unconscious Perceptions on WordPress some time ago and guess what? It was meant to be a repository for so much wonderful creativity. But guess what? It has never gotten beyond the title, and even that took a LOT of effort. Today, out of sheer frustration, I Googled depression and art and found your blog. It has helped me reading it, although one reading is not enough. So much of what you have written strikes a chord with me in the turmoil that I am presently going through. I have ideas – lots of ideas. I have half-finished and not-yet-started drawings and of course, promises to people that I don’t really intend to keep. All because I am sitting here, petrified, in a dark hole. But it is good to even share this with you because your blog has given me a way up and out. My depression could now become the driver behind good or great things. What about that!!! I never even thought of it that way and even as I write, I’m starting to feel a little excited. I am going to read your blog again and yet again if I have to, because if I don’t grasp the full meaning of what you have written, then I will be still sitting here with those broken promises a year from now. Thank you so much, George. Thank you.

    September 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    • Hey! Wow! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response to that post. I’m glad that my own struggle (ongoing!) with depression may help you out.You’re right— it’s amazing that we’re so far apart geographically, yet so close in the interior places of our lives. Weird how that is. 🙂 You live in an unbelievably beautiful place! I’ve never been to Ireland, but it’s on my list of places to see.Hang in there! Just do your stuff and let it be the vehicle to keep you going up and out of whatever’s slamming you. I know for me it comes and it goes. It certainly doesn’t help that I do some of the projects that I do, with such horrible reflections of what humans do to each other. But I always see it as a communication, of course, an affirmation that we’re not alone in this, that it’s a shared journey.And you’re NOT alone. Not really. Your writing this note was an act of reaching out. That’s huge. And the content of your note tells me that you will actually do the things you say you will do. :)But if you ever want to chat about all this feel free to email me: blind_boy@mac.comWould love to see what you’re cooking up creatively too! :)Take care! And thanks for reaching out!Best,George

      September 17, 2012 at 8:43 PM

  20. Hello there,

    I was doing some research on the internet about depression and its links with art and the creative intelligence for my new project at university and came across your blog.

    I have struggled a lot with my artwork and personal life in the last couple of years. University was such a big step for me, everything fell out of order and I felt suddenly lost.
    I used to draw all the time at school and anytime I had free time but in that first year of uni I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pencil and I felt so weighed down and exhausted all the time.

    Thankfully I ended up falling in love with photography which I think helped me get by just enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    I have just recently found the courage to sit down and create some work again and as you said in your blog, drawings have burst out of me! I have done more in the last couple of months than I have in the last two years and it feels like I have at last found myself again.

    This has been such an interesting and helpful read. Sometimes, in those dark moments of depression, we can forget that we are not the only ones to be going through it and I found so many things I could relate to in your writing.

    Thank you for creating this.

    Best wishes,


    September 28, 2012 at 7:50 AM

  21. A couple of years ago, I came across this piece and wrote accordingly about how much it meant to me. A couple of years later, I read it again. I think I should read this every day that I get up, before I do anything. That’s the thing, though. In the intervening period, I haven’t done much. Just succumbed to the depressive state and believed that I am not in control of my life. But when I read this piece again, it connected once more. And I’m glad it did. For it has helped me remember what I should have been doing, and has gave me inspiration to go and do what I want to do. What I must do. If I bottle it now, again, then more of my life will have been futile. So let’s start again and walk the walk. Not just talk the talk. Thank you for such an inspiring, living word, George.

    April 5, 2013 at 8:37 AM

  22. Kirk Albert Etienne

    Great article. Brooklyn, hell, New York hasn’t been the same since you left. So glad to read your thoughts on this. More than you know. Please reach out if you’re able. I’ll include an email address for you. I’ll write back- just not on the blog. Best to you always.
    Kirk. kae061@hotmail.com

    August 21, 2015 at 7:35 PM

  23. hammer

    Wow this was a good read 🙂
    I can’t really tell if im starting to suffer from depression or just temporary frustration. I’m 23 years old and I’m just starting out, right now Im on my first year as a fine arts student, and I totally love it. I’m inspired now that I am finally where I want to be, and where I’ll be in the future compared to when I was in medical school.

    I knew about concept art 3 years a go when I was still in medical school. It was pacific rim who lead me to concept art and since then its been a nonstop research which sounds great, but my technical skill has yet to improve. And this is where the the ugly part comes in, I get frustrated too easily when drawing because I know more than I can apply and since I’m 23 years old, I’m feeling the need to rush and get good as soon as possible. Then I get frustrated which leads me to self doubt, wondering will I ever get into the industry.

    I want to be great and be able to tell people that its the dream that counts and not the money because for me I think that money is just a bonus when you are actually doing what you love. I want to inspire people through art and tell them that its true the world is f**** up but its beautifully f**** up.

    August 22, 2015 at 1:38 AM

  24. Reblogged this on Rebecca Talks Life and commented:
    Definitely worth a read.

    August 22, 2015 at 8:23 AM

  25. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to put this together. Your clarity on the subject and ability to connect the art process with the inner drives that make us tick is pretty remarkable. From my distant perspective as a student of yours I never would’ve guessed that the work didn’t just flow freely from you whenever you pleased, but I probably should’ve known better.

    When a friend introduced me to you George I was blown away, talk about having ideas in your head and realizing others were working in similar veins at such an astounding level. Enemy Ace: War Idyll was a breath of fresh air when I was struggling to find my footing in painting school, and getting to know the artist and the human behind it really helped my perspective as an artist.

    It was great for me to finally find voices in the art world that said it was ok to be interested in military history, comics and graphic arts. I had a hard time finding myself in Rothko (although I appreciate him a lot more now) but man if Kerr Eby and Harvey Dunn didn’t get my mind racing.

    My art has come to me in fits and starts, my career isn’t necessarily on the path I expected, but it’s great and I hugely value the opportunities I’ve had. Whether through anxiety and doubt or just personal shortcomings, I haven’t lived up to the expectations of others in my life, but I am so thankful to have the opportunity to try and just to be here.

    I’m in the midst of some pretty significant life transitions, and I hope in time I can mend some of the bridges that I set fire to as I was walking across. I know many would take the opportunities I’ve had to greater heights, but I’ll keep hacking away at it until I’m satisfied or I run out of time and hopefully that’ll be enough.

    Others have mentioned it, but someone starting the conversation helps in pulling thoughts together. So thanks again for putting it out there, for all your efforts, for being an inspiration and for sending the message that it’s ok to be who and how you are. All the best.

    August 22, 2015 at 11:31 AM

  26. Reblogged this on ozumaryu and commented:

    August 22, 2015 at 1:19 PM

  27. thanks for the great in depth thoughts,I can relate to many experiences ,

    Enjoy ! Create ! Share!

    Mark R

    August 23, 2015 at 5:10 PM

  28. jws

    I relate to this more than I can say; this was exactly what I needed to read right now.
    Thank you so much for posting.

    August 27, 2015 at 1:21 PM

  29. mark english

    thank you, George. well said

    September 5, 2015 at 1:12 PM

  30. Pingback: How to recapture your passion | gratiajoubert

  31. Pingback: Recapturing passion | gratiajoubert

  32. ANR

    Reblogged this on Humid Neurasthenia.

    December 7, 2015 at 2:02 PM

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