"Just because I could produce quality experiences like large non-profits or big businesses doesn't mean I could keep up with their production schedules."
If you are or have been around a creative for an extended stretch, you have most likely experienced the term "burnt out." Like a match, there is an eruption followed by a period of fire and the inevitable charred remains of the original source.
Ok, that may seem a little dramatic, but for someone going through the aftermath of the creative flame, they can relate, I assure you.
It is also referred to in many other terms, but I don't think we make a connection between all of the statements. Have you ever heard someone refer to life as a road with many peaks and valleys? What about life is an endless circle? How about rest up and you will feel better in the morning? Life is full of rotations, and the creative energy we produce is no exception.
At the beginning of this year, I was on FIRE. In two years, through the Little Yellow Building, I produced five exhibitions (with one on the way), 50+ podcast episodes, four books, a free platform to promote Mississippi visual artists, and was about to launch the only magazine focused on contemporary visual artists in Mississippi. All while keeping a full schedule of after-school programs and adult classes during the week. Can anyone else see this as a recipe for disaster? While hindsight is 20/20, the truth is it all built on top of the other nicely.
Then in late February, things happened, and I could feel the shift. The fire hadn't gone out, but it was like the oxygen had turned off in the room, and my flame was getting smaller. I was able to ride that ember until July, then poof. I was out. I had switched to autopilot mode, where simple tasks that typically took minutes would last for hours. Compounding this feeling was the realization that Facebook and Instagram were yet again changing their setups to compete with other platforms. While Instagram was pushing new ways you had to create content to stay relevant, Facebook was upping the cost of its ad buys.
This may not seem like a big deal to some, but the thought of having to learn a new way to get artists seen while making my minuscule marketing budget virtually worthless left me defeated. By the end of July, I was in an emotional coma. While the summer exhibit was a success, with around 500 people through the doors and over 4k viewing it online, it felt hollow, and I had gone numb.
One thing that helped was when school started, and I was back on a regular schedule. That routine and needing to show up being present for the kids was more significant than my low. Still, The primary event that got me back on track was being invited by Angee Montgomery to attend the Motherland Retreat.
For four days, I was surrounded by eight artists who all got it. They understood where I was and provided me with confirmation that I was on the right path. I was given the space, time, and support to dive in and figure out this mess. Pulling one string at a time until the knot was untangled.
One of my biggest revelations was the pressure I put on myself to compete. But who am I competing against? Just because I could produce quality experiences like large non-profits or big businesses doesn't mean I could keep up with their production schedules. I was holding myself to time standards of entities with teams of employees. I realized I'm not even Mom and Pop shop! I'm more akin to a Grandson in a Hut kinda place. I needed to cut myself some slack.
What does all of that mean? It means that I have to remember that TLYB is just a guy with a place to create. That I'm not a team of people where when one person cycles through life, there is another to pick up the slack. I'm passionate about my projects. It means that I need to let things come to completion without forcing them to rigid deadlines. After all, I want what I'm creating to be of actual value to people, and I can't do that if I'm just a lump of coal in the pile of ash.
Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. I hope it helps explain where I have been the last month and how I will handle things going forward. One thing is for sure. This isn't my first cycle; I'm sure it's not my last.
- Derek with the Little Yellow Building
The Little Yellow Building is the creative art studio of Mississippi artist Derek Covington Smith. TLYB was established in 2018 to help grow and promote visual art in the state through opportunity, exposure, and education.