In Pursuit of Unproductivity


As someone who breathes and lives art, guilt would settle at the corners of my mind whenever I find myself pursuing 'unproductive' things totally unrelated to my creative work. As commonplace and insignificant as I feel these so-called diversions are, they do make my heart sing. Watching documentaries, reading stories, fixing notes, creating films and experimenting in the kitchen are some of my mundane pastimes that can't be filed under productively creative in connection to what I do. Yet in every space of my spare time, I yearn to divert from my craft and turn to these things.

I always seem to find myself tiptoeing between churning out artistic work and reaching the most dreaded plateau. One moment I'm painting for hours on end, every single day of the week, and the next I'm glued to my laptop screen, doing nothing significant at all.

In this moment, where I'm whirled between balancing admin work and throwing farewell gatherings with my friends, and settling in a new place, I've hit another hiatus where I haven't had the time nor motivation to pick up a brush. After days on end of consistently working on large-scale projects, from group exhibits to workshops, I felt like I needed a break from doing any kind of creative work.

Learning To Step Back

Recently, I came across an article of a local artist I admire. In the Q&A from Valerie Chua's interview with Design Hatch, this honest statement caught my eye:

Sometimes, you have to learn to step back and let go. There are things you'll never get to see if you never quit. In my life I've quit art maybe three times. I'd go six months with absolutely no art, and that's when I see what's wrong. What's important is to learn to pick yourself up and find the courage to start again.

Even though my situation isn't on the same grid as quitting art for a long period of time, I do have moments where I constantly step back and even question if being on a creative journey is the right path for me.

A testament to these swirling feelings are my short-burst tweets from the last week of July:


I have this notion that artists have a preconceived mindset to create every single day, simply because it's a part of who they are and it's ingrained in their daily rituals. Whenever I'm on a standstill with my craft, I let negative thoughts and feelings chip away at my creative spirit and this mindset I unconsciously adhered to became toxic to myself and to my work.

Before I started my freelance career, I used to draw and paint at every turning moment, simply because I enjoyed it as a hobby. And with any other hobbies or things we don't take too seriously, it's always rainbows and sunshine because all of it is simply for fun.

Now that I experienced being a full-time artist, there are moments where I get sick of holding a brush and can't stand the sight of my paintings. I had to cower back to other things just so I could get over the dullness of doing things repetitively: wake up, make art, eat, sleep, repeat.

It came to a point where the thought of doing anything unrelated to what I do is automatically categorized under 'unproductive'. If it didn't have a connection with painting or drawing, I felt like it's not a significant task to undertake.

But as I'm writing this, I realized the importance of the pursuit of unproductiveness. This doesn't only go out to me, but to all of us who toil away on our own playing field.

Contemplating on these feelings made me realize how the act of productivity itself can be physically and mentally exhausting and that it's absolutely okay to indulge yourself in silly side hobbies that refreshes your spirit. Life is about balance and there should always be a yin and yang.

Being unproductive doesn't necessarily mean wasting your energy source on trivial quests. Think of it as an interlude. A much needed respite from the astronomical matters to pursue other projects that matter equally to you. I want this to be a reminder, not only to myself but to you lovely beings as well, that it all boils down to acknowledgement, acceptance and gratitude.


Appreciating Unproductivity

Letting yourself enjoy the simple, non-productive things is one of Reese's tips from our last Creative Conversations. She expressed that there's value in every single thing we do, no matter how mundane it is. I take comfort in the way she planted this particular seed of truth during our gathering because it allowed me to lessen the grip on myself for pursuing unrpoductivity in my existential moments.

I found it simpler to acknowledge the whole concept as an alternative act of self-love. See it for what it is: doing things that nourishes your mind, body and soul. Ultimately, whatever it is you are doing, it would undoubtedly contribute to your creative work on the grander scale of things. If your interests lies in something, it can subtly affect your work and mindset in a way that will inspire you to visually turn your thoughts and feelings from the information you gathered and translate it into your creative work.

If you ever find yourself needing to take a breather, simply let yourself be and reenergize your soul in other ways that translate into acts of self-love: read, walk, listen to music, go online, edit videos and whatever floats your boat.

Give yourself some space and don't be too hard on yourself. 

ReflectJamie CattComment