For a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, the researchers set out to determine whether artists possess more psychological vulnerabilities and more psychological strengths than people who work in non-creative fields.
They surveyed 309 artists on faculty at top US art schools and a similarly sized sample of workers who had no training in the arts. Both groups were asked about their “crazy” sides (or their “psychological vulnerabilities,” in updated parlance), which were defined as the degrees of stress, anxiety, and depression they experience in their everyday lives.
Why so stress?
In other words, the artists were both “crazier” and “saner” than the non-artists, as Barron phrased it. (The artists did not rate any differently in depression, and they rated higher in all of the positive categories except “environmental mastery,” which indicates how much control people feel over their life circumstances.)
According to the study, the relationship between psychological strengths and psychological weaknesses are key: Most of the time, individuals who have more vulnerabilities also have fewer resources. “It makes sense that if people experience more symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression, they are less likely to have hope or be psychologically well,” writes study co-author Zorana Ivcevic Pringle.
Your boss is you!
As a professional artist, you are the boss. That means you alone are responsible for your success. There are no coworkers or managers to fall back on. What’s more? Your talent, creativity, and know-how are constantly on the line. Staying productive can feel like an impossible dream. You don’t always know what you’re doing, and the list of things you need to learn or solve practically goes on forever. If you fail, it feels like you have no one to blame but yourself. It’s an exorbitant amount of stress to place on yourself. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a simple trick for eliminating that stress, and it’s called “flipping the script.”
Do what you like
Step one should always be making sure your art is the perfect fit. Because no matter how good your work is, if it’s outside the realm of what a client or juror is looking for, then you have a slim chance of moving forward in the process.
Creative people are more anxious
The point is that understanding stress means ceasing to see it as a negative thing. Stress is context specific. Like ugliness, it resides in the eye of the beholder. This is a fairly recent insight. As Mark A. Runco, the E. Paul Torrance Professor of Creativity Studies at the University of Georgia, explained, early on, when scientists began looking into stress, “they put together these life-change scales, weighing major events: loss of a spouse or family member scores very high because it contributes a bunch of stress, as do divorce and change in income,” he said.
“However, their most interesting finding was that some of the most stressful events are happy ones: marriage, vacations, getting a raise. They pretty quickly realized that people react differently to events. In other words, the stress isn’t in the environment”—it is perceptual. This insight accords well with Weinberger’s study, which, the authors wrote, “clarifies mixed findings on the effects of psychological detachment (or ‘switching off’) from work in organizational behavior research by highlighting the benefits of emotionally-neutral engagement with work-related problems.”