Loneliness – The Burden of Artists

The Lonesome Road of Artists

Don’t get me wrong — Being a self-employed artist is absolutely the most rewarding and fascinating journey I have ever undertaken. It lights my soul on fire and makes me happier than I ever thought possible. I feel empowered and capable. I absolutely love getting up every morning. I adore my job.

That doesn’t make it any less lonely though.

I’m not talking about the hermit-like lifestyle I lead all day, every day, in order to get work done. I’m talking about the absence of true connection with other people who don’t pursue goals in the same manner.

I’ve met many people who work 9-to-5’s and generally assume that I work very little, and that my daily life consists of TV, napping, and leisure. Somehow, amidst this life of endless stasis, my artwork, marketing, and writings burst forth into the universe simply because I think them into existence.

Whenever I achieve something I’ve been working towards, someone inevitably comments about how “lucky” I am. Ha.

Then there’s the suspicion from outsiders. Since obviously I just stay home all day, I obviously have plenty of free time to meet people for lunch, go shopping on a whim, and spend all day on a Thursday at the beach. That’s what other people do on their days off, right? And, as an Artist-Entrepreneur, I have every day off! Yay!! If I refuse activities too often, my friends begin to take it personally, because it’s interpreted that I simply don’t want to spend my endless free-time with them. It’s hard to overcome this misunderstanding.

It’s not you, it’s me. Really.

As those of us who choose this wacky lifestyle know, we don’t start work at 9 and end it at 5. IT NEVER ENDS. Ever. There are no real vacation days. We have to force ourselves into taking any time off, and even then we sneak peeks at our phones to check for new emails.

I crave interaction with those that understand me. I find myself disproportionately excited to meet a new possible friend who lives the same lifestyle as I do. Hooray for the Internet. Outsiders might snicker that we call each other “friends,” but we share a camaraderie that, at the very least, helps with the feeling of perpetual loneliness. (Not to mention the business opportunities we tend to pass around to each other.)

It can’t be forced in real life. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve started conversations about Entrepreneurialism with strangers in order to gauge their interest on the topic. I’ve drunkenly blathered about Moo Cards and Twyla Tharp to someone in a foreign country on the vague possibility of connection.


I know, in the long run, this is a lifestyle we each go alone. Hopefully we have families that love us and support us through it, and understand our ways. And the people we meet online really are a special breed of companions in an otherwise island-like existence. Truly I enjoy reading what each of you are doing with your day-to-day activities, your thoughts on marketing, and your experiences that match mine. It’s nice to know that you’re out there too, obsessing over your own careers as I am mine.

In that way, sincerely, I have an ever-growing, ever strengthening support group of like-minded individuals. It’s lovely to know that we’re in this together.

Written by Shayla Maddox for Art & Musings

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30 thoughts on “Loneliness – The Burden of Artists”

  1. Amen.

    I’m currently on maternity leave as an artist which just means I do exactly the same as I always have but I don’t make money. My new mummy and non-arty friends always ask me how I don’t get bored all day and why I don’t go to baby groups or enjoy meeting for coffee to discuss TV but the difference between me and them is that I’m TOO BUSY with my art interests and raising children to have ANY free time. I fill my life with projects and creativity. I learn things. And because they don’t, they just assume I’m sat at home getting lazy, watching TV and slowly rotting away. Their interest in education and the world stopped when they left school. Mine only started then! Then when I sit them down and tell them all the things I’ve done or learnt they look at me in bewilderment like ‘how do I find the time’, like it’s some kind voodoo.

    They just don’t understand. And they never will. Poor things.

  2. How’s this: 😉
    You’re right, I don’t think I can fully understand you, or even fully sympathize with you. Why? Not because I believe you were “lucky” or were given a “handout” or even that you possess some higher level of talent and creativity than the rest of us, which allowed you become so successful (even though I DO think you are incredibly talented). No, I can’t fully relate to you because I’ve DONE it… No, I take that back: I’ve TRIED it, and I’m not very good at it! Epic FAIL. The American Dream? Own your own business, work for yourself, and the sky’s the limit? No thanks, that is A LOT of freakin’ work! You work 24/7, you worry 24/7, you know that if you aren’t out there, keeping people enthusiastic about your business, ain’t no one else gonna do it! And guess what, you’ve gone from superstar to “What was that girl’s name again?” in about the time it takes to hard boil an egg.

    Can I relate to you? Not completely, no. Am I jealous as hell and envious you could make this work? Oh yeah…. Hats off to you, girl!

  3. Amen from my corner too. It is an odd life we lead; peaceful yet stressful in ways we cannot hope to convey. Get past the ones who are jealous and the ones who believe you must be living off some invisible system and you get to the ones who, once you pour out a little of your insides, say simply “oh, it’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” How do you explain that if you don’t worry — if you don’t constantly push the machine, it doesn’t go?

    I only wish the best friends that I have weren’t miles and oceans away. Put us all in the same space for a little while, and we’d change the world, baby!

  4. Wow, Jessica! You have a beautiful to unravel your soul in words! I do envy you. If I had to work to make a living I would most definetely prefer your way than mine (working for someone else.) Although it might be lonely and difficult, at least you have the satisfaction and joy of doing what you were created to do, rather than feeling frustrated because you don’t have the time todo any art because of the 9 to 5 grind. And I still feel lonely, a lot… Love your heart!

  5. Ohhh snap! Kudos to you, I have no clue how you do it. I can barely figure out grocery shopping sometimes, I have no idea what it must be like to throw raising a family into that schedule! :) Your children will be such empowered adults, knowing that you did so much for them, and still valued yourself and your own future. Awesome. :)

  6. hehe, thanks! It definitely took a lot of practice for me to get in the swing of doing things. Years of practice. And ultimately it comes down to the fact that the alternative (a regular “job” and regular income) was sucking my soul away and I inevitably resented my superiors, my job, my life. At the time I quit my day job, I didn’t know it would be this hard, but despite the longer working hours and personal stress, I still choose it over working for other people. (I’m too snarky to do so anyway. Bosses hate that. ;))

  7. Oh Shayla,
    I laughed out loud when I read about your drunken Moo card ramblings, because I find myself rambling to “outsiders” about Etsy, and shipping stress, and fishing display racks from the dumpster, and buying wide-format paper during 50% off sales… all the things that get me excited or frustrated.
    They stare at me like I’m foaming at the mouth, and questioning whether its contagious, and should they put me to sleep now or get me tested?

    Which is why I struggle to open up with people, and wind up smiling quietly when they ask me how the kids are, and whether I like being “a stay at home mommy”. Like it’s all about cooking breakfast and washing laundry, and being Mrs. Cleaver in heels.

    I love the company of awesome full-time artists like yourself and Jessica, because you can understand what I’m excited or frustrated about. Even my husband doesn’t get it. He knows I make money, but doesn’t realize I can’t always be a babysitter in the studio. 😛

    I would never, EVER, assume that creating, marketing, and selling your own products is an easy-breezy way to live. It’s super stressful even to those of us who aren’t as successful as you are. I’m amazed by your gifts, inspired by your work ethic, and no – you aren’t “lucky” – you’re damn hard-working and brilliant! xoxo

  8. Aww, ♥ :) Thanks, Love! xo

    The funny part is, I’ve experienced this weirdness so much that lately I’ve been trying out a silence-technique. Unless someone asks what I do, I don’t offer it up, and even then I try to remain short with my answers. Since most people don’t understand, or don’t care, I’m trying to reign myself in a bit. Of course, now I have situations in which people ask what I do, and when I explain, they respond with, “Have you ever thought about selling your work?” or “Do you want to be in shows one day?” 😉

    If I clarify the “level” to which I do art, they either look at me like I just explained it in Latin or suddenly insinuate that I’m somehow being pretentious for believing I could do such things. The nerve of me selling my art for a living when other people have to have JOBS and WORK. ::gasp::

  9. Great article Shayla, thatsays it all. I don’t yet have the courage to leave the security of employment but that just means I have to fit all the other things in as well. I envy your courage and appreciate your dedication. It is good to see you here too. x

  10. Wow! Are you my twin? I feel lonely a lot. People don’t understand why I don’t answer the phone 24/7 (I’d never get any work done!) and often think I am “blowing them off”. It’s hard being an artist, it takes a lot of determination. Some days I yearn for a 9-5 job, not that I could actually do without creating, but it’d be nice to have days off.

  11. I think some people think I have a secret life, with secret friends and do secret fun things all the time that I don’t talk about. 😉 The worst part is when I see people I haven’t seen for awhile, I don’t have an answer to the “What have you been up to?” question that isn’t “……Work.” heh

  12. Shayla, very poignant article.  Not for one minute do I imagine that you’re a dreamy slacker.  I understand the think of not being able to turn it “off”. (I don’t have the stress of supporting myself with my work exclusively, but I am a creative, a writer, a sometimes artist, and a mom to 5 kids.)

    Anyhow, one of my favorite things in all the world is to meet other creatives.  I love to listen and to daydream with them, visit them in their studios, do a little work if invited…. and if I met you in a bar, I would for sure gab with you all things Moo cards, etsy or whatever.:)

  13. I feel understood after reading this… I know what you mean by, “It never ends.” Its tough maintaining relationships with people who can’t offer insights, share your passion, or support your work. For me, I often wonder if there’s some hidden tree house where all the art-entreprenuers work out of, and if there is, I’m sure missing out. If recently thought of starting my own tree house to see who would show up, because the growth that would come through a community of business-minded artists would be unparalleled to any self-drive or insular potential any individual could muster… So if this blog is about bringing together creative entrepreneurs, count me in!

  14. Thank you for this article. I feel like someone actually understands what I’m going through at last. Stay strong and keep your passion burning:)

  15. I have just started painting, i wouldnt call myself an artist but i think like one. I love this article. Its exactly how i feel. Thank you

  16. Shayla,

    I went looking today online specifically for this topic. Being am artist is mostly a solitary profession. Some collaborate on work but that’s not for everyone. Mostly you are on your own. It can be especially challenging if you live in rural areas as I do. One of the main reason I chose to live here is because it provides solace and serenity of the county side and nature that inspires subject matter for me. I find I need to force myself to engage with others especially artists and creatives so I consciously get myself involved in events and shows as must as I possibly can. At times I can feel overwhelmed with issues that come up, living by myself, like financial hardship, clutter and procrastination which all contribute to my mood. I then often don’t want to paint and can’t seem to get out of my own way. Writing for me provides a creative outlet and connected with the creative process. Being connected on line is a God send for sure as I can’t always be engaged face to face with my creative friends. Thanks for you post.


  17. I just came across this today and I am so glad that I did. I’ve been combating deep feelings of loneliness for some time now and often find myself questioning if the struggle is truly worth it. Three years ago I made a personal commitment to living a creative life. I stepped into it wholeheartedly. Even knowing what I know now I don’t think I’d change the choice one bit but I do wish I’d been a little more prepared for the sacrifices such a lifestyles requires.

    I love what I do and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Thank you for sharing this post.

  18. I often am terribly happy doing what I’m doing now, but I find it extremely hard to find others who are as committed. There are a lot of people doing art out there, but they’re not really serious about it, and that is lonely sometimes. None of my friends or family really seem to care about art in general, so I don’t really share what I’m doing with them (but rather to strangers on the Internet).

  19. Thank you so much for writing this. After years of travelling as an artist with other artists I decided to marry my partner and set up home and studio in one city. I’ve been successful in creating my work and finding an audience for it. but I am lonely! Your blog post was like an invisible support group for me. Really, thank you. I have reached out to other artists in my community but alas we are all busy in our own worlds. I do manage to attend show openings from time to time and that feeds some of my social needs. But developing a close group of friends who understand my lifestyle is tough. I’ve realised I’ve to let go of my past friendships. It just doesn’t work anymore. Perhaps I’ll need to put more effort in developing relationships with other artists in the local art scene .. time to invite some people home.

  20. Hey Shayla, James here from Australia.
    I came across Jess’s blog after doing a search on the loneliness of artists.

    I’m a young 50 and have been working commercially as an artist, in one form or another, all of my life. Bit of a struggle initially but once I landed my first gig as an artist/screen printer, I was on my way. From there worked with Disneys here in Aus as an illustrator and then studied Design – Corp I.d & Interactive design. I have had stints working in house but the majority of the last 13yrs have been as a hired gun – usually working from home with catch up meetings and the like.

    Over the last 2 years, I’ve cut back on digital work and have been getting back into Art for Art’s sake and what a difference it is making to me and my outlook. It’s been great!
    I’m now embarking on my first exhibition with a series I started over 2 yrs ago. It’s a task to complete as I have moved on but there’s a learning to it :)

    Ever since committing to the exhibition and promising both paintings and Lino prints (abt 20 all up), life has been throwing everything at me. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, kid issues, parent issues, friends tragedies and just abt everything else. And while I love having these wonderful people in my life I now realise that that comes with a commitment in itself.

    All of my kids are grown up now and I’ve been single for a few years so I thought this would be my time.

    While I work away at completing this series, I’m isolating when I can in order to work. I feel guilty at times and my mind wanders but all in all.. There’s an energy, a passion I feel which makes me determined to create and to be a painter, along with other mediums, but the want is to paint.

    Reading your piece on loneliness resonated with me as it is something I have to deal with as well and have had to put up with others perception of my lifestyle.thats ok tho, there’s been a lot of flexibility with working.

    You know.. I think it’s the sacrifice, the dedication, the reflection and all of that time alone.. which allows an artist to reach deeply inside of themselves, find their soul and create some emotionally charged, moving work.

    I read about Jessica, thinking that she wrote the quip but then realised a different author’s name. (Hey Jess). Looking at both of you two, I can’t understand why you gals would be alone. So creative and cute :) Enough of that tho..

    Shayla – reading your overview (everything abt the universe) and looking at your artwork (& Jess’s work – embryo woman) I wanted to say hi as I saw some similarities in our work. I don’t post paintings on my site at this stage, post exhibition I will.

    And considering the loneliness factor after a day painting.. just wanted to say “Hi”

    Drop me a line if you like, otherwise all the best :)
    (Or considering the length of this comment) if you need another contributor :)

  21. I absolutely adore everything you said in this post. It spoke volumes to me that someone out there, in existence, feels the same exact way that I do. I often feel horrible when I’m ditching my friends, and I feel even more awful when I don’t get any phone calls from them. And then when we finally get together, they say, “Oh no, I understand you’re working. I see your Instagram following growing. How many books do you have now?” It’s almost like their applauding me, but at the same time alienating me, as I have done them. It’s a never ending struggle. However, I do feel strongly about creating things, not just for myself, but for the world to enjoy. When I am not creating something, I’m thinking of ways to create something. Does that make sense? Luckily, I have a fanbase that loves what I create. I’ve inspired many people along the way, as well as, built a pretty strong social media network that I believe will grow stronger, which does my heart a great deal.
    Hopefully, my friends and I will have a closer bond, if I do in fact get to where I want to go as an artist. But that’s another story.
    All and all, thank you so much for saying everything you did.

  22. I’m a single woman, an artist. I can always tell when I’m about to go into a lonely spell so whenever I can I get into the preventative mode. I get out and participate in my community in some kind of social gathering setting ( not a bar ). The one thing I do crave and miss in the creative discourse with another creative type. This can be hard to find when you live in a remote rural area, the ideal spot for and artist, she says not expecting a social life!.

    If I can find one good creative friend and fortunately I have a couple, and both get our fill of discourse until we can get together again. Mean time, yes, thank goodness for the internet! I’ve met some wonderful artists online, but alas doesn’t substitute for face to face communication.

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