How can we maintain psychological safety in an arts practice which is going public?
Updated: Jan 3, 2022
Tania Rose, Arts Psychotherapist
I love creating art in many different ways: paintings, videos, music, writing, dance, photography, textiles....I just love doing it. Whilst some of it has made it out there in the world, there is little of it that I have made public.Sometimes my art confronts me. Sometimes I don't like it, not necessarily because it isn’t good enough, but because something about it is uncomfortable. I can't always explain it. BUT,I don't want to stop making, in fact I am compelled to create. It’s just that sometimes when I come to the end of the process, finished or not, I don't feel right about it.
As an arts psychotherapist, I understand what this is about. The creative projects I make often contain psychological material; stuff that is going on inside of me, sometimes conscious , perhaps subconscious, physical, mental, emotional...all of these things and more. And once it comes out of me and into the world, there can be something vulnerable about it, and then something feels vulnerable about me.
When you work with an arts therapist, together you are able to discover ways to manage, contain, and work through experiences, and your creative process is not on display. However, when you are working by yourself on a project, things can feel a little weird and uncomfortable, and can even sometimes become distressing.
But how can you share something deeply personal and creative in the world, and also look after yourself in the process? The good news is there are many things you can do to help you work towards a public display of your art, whilst exercising self care at the same time.
Questions to ask before you start
It’s important to make sure you create psychological safely around your creative projects. Before you begin a creative project that’s going to go public, you might like to ask yourself a few questions:
Is there enough time to create and look out for my wellbeing as well?
Can I take my project down out of the public eye if I need to?
Is there support provided if I need it?
Does this opportunity look after my own needs?
Take self-care seriously
Creative people can be over 50% more likely to experience mental health issues, so a good place to start is to think about the things that make you feel good. Even better, write them down. You might like to think of it like your own self-care plan to go to when things don’t feel that great. It might include things like:
Phoning a friend
Going for a walk
Doing some exercise
Writing in a private journal
Talking to a support person
Eating some soup
Cuddling your pets
Playing some music
Going to a dance class
Or playing sport
Plus anything else that you can think of that is good for you to do for yourself
Everyone is different so everyone’s list will be different, but this list is best written when you’re feeling ok, so you can turn to it when you’re not. It can be like a roadmap to help you get unstuck. If you stick it to your fridge it’s easy to find when you need it.
As you’re working on your project, be mindful of your feelings
Sometimes we can get so immersed in the process that we find it hard to keep tabs on ourselves and how we’re feeling. Sometimes the pressure to finish something can cloud our feelings around the project’s content, and it’s only when we see it in public that we realise the depth of feeling on display.
Here are a few tips:
After doing some work on it, check in with yourself about how you’re feeling
Write down key words in a journal and think about what they mean to you
Gaze at your work, if you can. Watch it and see how you feel.
Make changes to your creation help you feel better.
Do some things on your self-care plan
It’s ok to change your mind
Sometimes you might work on a project and then feel uncomfortable about sharing it. THAT IS REALLY OK. It could be that it becomes something you share later on, or perhaps this particular project turned out to be just something that you needed to do for yourself. Having doubts can be an indicator that you need to protect yourself, so take time to tap into yourself. You might find you need to share some thoughts and feelings with a mental health professional, which is actually a really helpful thing to do. There are some great community health organisations that offer free services. If it’s really feeling sticky, you could consider speaking to an arts therapist, who is trained to understand how doing something creative can bring things up for a person, and they are skilled to help you process things and feel better.
Take you time before you share it
This is really important. If you do decide to go ahead and share, spend some time with your creation. Get to know it. This might take days, weeks or even months. Sometimes artists take years before they share, and many never showed some of their art during their lifetime. Once again your self-care plan can help you through this time.
Test it out before going public
You might like to share it with some close friends before you go public. This can get you used to the feeling of having someone experience it and maybe say things about it before you put it out to the world. Write in your journal about your feelings around this.
Taking the plunge
It can be an overwhelming experience to launch a project publically, but if you make a launch plan you can move through the process easier. A launch schedule is particularly helpful when it contains lots of self care. It could look something like this:
Prepare a little celebration ritual before you launch
Tell yourself some positive affirmations, like “I’m really glad to be sharing this with others”
Launch your project
Do something nice and special for yourself to celebrate
Do some self-care plan activities
Write in your journal about your feelings about launch day
Watch a happy or funny episode or film to finish your day
Support once it’s in the world
It’s really important to have some kind of support once your project is public. Creative people can experience all kinds of things once their work is public. Feelings of triumph and celebration, to feelings of grief and loss...all of these are normal experiences once a project is out in the world. We may feel we need to defend our work, we may feel sad that people might not understand, or wonder if anyone actually cares about it. These, again, are very normal experiences to go through, but if they stay with you or they begin interfering with your daily life, reaching out for mental health support is really important.
It’s ok to take it down
There’s no shame in removing a project that feels uncomfortable. The most important thing is that we feel ok. Putting a piece of yourself out there can be hard, and there’s no reason you should suffer for your art...truly. There are ways to be a productive creative person without needing to endure painful experiences in making art.
Finally, hearing about it might have brought things up for you
If you have found listening to this has brought up things you would like to talk about, reach out to someone you feel comfortable talking to. You can always reach out for mental health support, because it’s there for everyone. We all need to navigate life and we can help each other in many different ways.
Take care, and enjoy the journey.