Column, Opinions

Artfully Apathetic: Musings on Creative Burnout

When was the last time you were touched by a piece of art?

While a seemingly simple question, I have found myself stumped. Of course, I have stumbled upon a new song that makes me smile here and there, but it has been some time since I felt utterly moved by a work of art.

In all honesty, the realization left me feeling a little sad. After all, it’s not as though there’s a shortage of beautiful artwork around me. Whether it’s the music I’m listening to, the paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), or the many dance showcases at BC, I have had plenty of opportunities to immerse myself in beautiful examples of creativity. Yet nothing of late has given me the mind-numbing sensation of being utterly at the mercy of art and its beauty.

You see, to truly know art is to let it touch you. To invite the masterpiece into the softest parts of your heart. To lower your strongest defenses and succumb to the infinity of someone else’s brilliance. Thus, witnessing art in its fullest capacity is an act of vulnerability. It requires my complete and utter surrender to something larger than myself—an act of humility that can sometimes be overwhelming and uncomfortable.

Softness is difficult to access in the world we live in today. As I burn myself out trying to meet the demands of my undergraduate education, I find that my mind holds little room for anything besides the next deadline or extracurricular commitment. Any free time I manage to acquire is put toward a mindless consumption of social media—further numbing myself to the more sensitive qualities of life.

Stuck in this cycle, I have remained locked out of the palace of artistic plenty, struggling to feel the creative spark that once burned bright within.

From what I have heard, however, I am not the only one. Recent conversations with friends have reassured me that they too are suffering from this creativity-depriving burnout.

This rather depressing conclusion was made doubly so when I realized that I do not have a magic wand that allows me to press pause on the numbingly unending cycle of stress. I will, however, offer a paradox that may be more productive: the key to ending creative burnout is to pursue creativity. In other words, the problem of feeling unmoved by art can only be cured by seeking it out more intentionally.

There is something beautiful about setting aside time to appreciate art and acknowledging the need to feel your own vulnerability. Being spoken to by the small vase in the corner of a large museum exhibit, the instrumentals bridging the verses of a new favorite song, or the quirkiest pair of sunglasses hanging on a nearby rack at the thrift store should not be taken for granted. To reserve space for such experiences is to tell yourself that you are more than a productive engine. 

You are a creature of beauty who deserves to see your likeness reflected in the art you let inside. 

Creative restoration is just as important as physical, mental, and emotional rest. Creative droughts, and any impairments to your reservoir of softness, need to be treated with just as much attention as any other wellness deficit.

I recently took a trip to the MFA, trying to obey the insistent tugging of these re-remembered realizations. While I entered the building expecting to have a fairly enjoyable experience, I did not expect to sink onto a bench in the middle of an exhibit and breathe the energy of the space into my lungs. As I sat there for hours, letting the art tower around me and through me, I felt a small tear fall down my cheek.

When I finally rose, I couldn’t help but feel so much joy. The creative well within me was finally restored, and I could experience the softness of the world again. 

April 14, 2024