Photo: Keep Calm Generator's website

On Career Breaks/Ends and Artist Breakdowns

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Finnish rap star Cheek has announced the end of his career as a performing musician at age 35 in a country where the average man’s lifespan is about 80 years old. What will he do during the remaining 45 years of his life? Why did he decide to stop? Did his muse abandon him? Can his fans accept this news without becoming emotional? People are shocked, as if this kind of career decision from an artist is new to the world, or worse—is the end of the world.

Far from it. I hold a great appreciation for rap, and I enjoy Cheek’s performances, but now I will have to comfort myself by listening to the trendy combination of J-Ax & Fedez, which I particularly enjoy. (Do not roll your eyes, please!)

First of all, I understand Cheek’s decision. He says he has given everything he had, and I believe him. Why shouldn’t I? After all, he sells out concerts in a few minutes, holding the record in his home country.

If you really love what you do, you must be honest with yourself. Artists are primarily creators of art. To create art of any kind, you need to put your soul and your life into it. After all, you are offering what you created to other fellow humans. That is exhausting, and artists know it. Cheek is no exception. If he says that was it, that was it. Period.

To be an artist without any problems and enjoy a stress-free career, you need to take full ownership, be highly motivated, and possess a strong artist/learner identity. In the Western world, maybe also less longevity (mind my dark humor, of course!) But you must be creative and have support too.

Life does not always provide perfect conditions for your muse to hang around freely. In addition, artists are known as being extra sensitive and living under extreme conditions in many cases, so there is an increased risk of suffering from breakdowns during an arts career.

Career breaks in the arts field know no boundaries in terms of age, gender, era, socio-economic status, or art form. Renaissance minds like Michelangelo; young actors like Emma Watson, Blake Lively, or Ryan Gosling; theatre figures like Lola Herrera (getting depression after touring with Delibes’ Five Hours with Mario—no wonder!); unique singers from Renée Fleming to Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber, or Lily Allen; or ballet dancers like Sergei Polunin. The list is endless (read this and this). They all struggled throughout life with their professions. They all took breaks or stopped their careers for different reasons. Some of the most common reasons among artists to stop performing or take a break include:

  • caring for their mental/physical balance
  • sudden illness
  • economic issues
  • maternity/paternity leave
  • interest in studying something else
  • engaging in charity work
  • lack of creative ideas
  • lack of motivation
  • lack of support
  • age/gender discrimination in the profession
  • desire to achieve spiritual growth
  • simple need for time for themselves
  • environmental activities
  • political reasons
  • moving across art disciplines
  • change of priorities in life
  • unfavorable working conditions
  • realizing their career choice was not fulfilling their life
  • “neoliberal effect” of artists becoming entrepreneurs
  • inability to cope with external negative feedback (critics, audience, peers), or with too much success
  • physiological demands of specific art professions (e.g. dance and opera).

Whether the decision to take a career break is temporary and artists come back stronger, whether they start performing under a pseudonym (such as writer J. K. Rowling), or whether such a decision means the final end to a particular career, we should respect it. Because it can happen to any of us.

In fact, I myself stopped playing actively for about 10 years before engaging again in playing concerts. I simply lost my motivation along the way (you get an idea why in these blog posts 1, 2, 3). At the time, I simply had a greater interest in learning about psychology and musicology.

So, dear readers, I just wanted to remind you to “career on” if you feel like it. And if not—and conditions allow for it—do whatever the hell makes you happy. After all, this is your life and nobody else’s!

But just one more thing… was making art a career or an inspiration?

Thanks for reading! :)

PS. If you want to learn a bit more about artists employability and identity, please check these research projects at AcademiaEdu led by Prof. Dawn Bennet (who recently visited the Center for Educational Research and academic Development in the Arts (CERADA) at Uniarts): 1, 2, 3, 4.