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"Why Debt Will Kill Your Artistry" by guest author JoAnneh Nagler

Today's post by JoAnneh Nagler focuses on the impact of overextending yourself financially and how it affects your creativity. As we begin the new year, I think her words of advice are worth consideration for starting 2012.

Note: The opinions expressed by the author, JoAnneh Nagler, in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is implied.

Falling from Heaven; 48 x 60 mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerDebt is a killer.  It’s a downward spiral into a nightmare of nail-biting, stomach-churning, sleep-deprived stress, and our self-justifying doesn’t make it any better.  When we use credit to extend our standard of living, we believe that we’re making things “easier” and “better” for the moment, but what we’re really doing is just postponing pain.  

On some level, we may already know how damaging debt is, but we end up falling into the pit of debt trouble because we think we can manage it.  Over time, as our debt grows and our ability to pay diminishes—because high balances mean that it’s a struggle to pay our minimums and still fund our life—we get desperate.  We use credit to survive, making the cycle worse by using credit for our basic needs.

Beyond; 30 x 40 in mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerMost of us have experienced some large or small version of a debt cycle.  But it’s worse for the artist.  How come?  Because when debt takes a toll on our spirits and our well-being—as it inevitably will—it also takes a toll on our ability to create art. 

As artists, we need room to create—not just physical space, but breathable, quiet, wound-down ease to be able to find our way.  We need to hear the voices within us that say, “Put a wash of crimson across the top third of the canvas,” or “try welding that large piece of copper balanced on its endpoint.”  In other words, our heads cannot be filled with the chatter of debt anxiety and still be focused on our work. 

The Libertine  - 36 x 48 - Mixed Media by JoAnneh NaglerAs artists, no one is going to make us punch a time clock to get our performance piece up on its legs.  No supervisor is going to give us a delineated job description and a deadline to finish that abstract.  No press-for-a-delivery-date company president is going to insist that we complete our metal collage. 

We create in the space of discovery, and though once in a while some of us may have a gallery deadline or a show date looming large, most of us will have to discipline ourselves—day in and day out—to still the chatter of daily life demands and sequester ourselves long enough to get our art done.  Meaning, we have to have some peace inside us to do it.

Red Sea; 30 x 40 mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerSo what does debting do to the spirit of discovery?  What does it do to the spirit of peace, or to our ability to listen to ourselves?  It kills it, that’s what. 

How come?  Because debt puts pressure on us to succeed.  It means that our projects have to succeed right out of the box because we debted to create them, and they don’t get a normal growth arc.  Fronting ourselves credit to do our art—then waiting for a “miracle” to save us by a hoping for quick sale—means when that doesn’t happen, we’re desperate.  Then, my desperation steals my attention from my work and my life, and that steals time from my art.

Spiritual; 36 x 48 in mixed media canvas by JoAnneh NaglerWhen I debt to live or debt to make art, I literally steal the hours from myself that I need to create.  I will not be peaceful.  I will not be engaged.  I will not be able to listen, because I’ll be desperate.  I’ll be in debt, I’ll be worried, I’ll be scheming to figure out how to get out from under the pressure of it, and I won’t—not by a long shot—be in any state of ease.

When we debt to make art and engage in magical thinking—that is, that we’ll have a “sure thing” and a sale if we front ourselves cash—it’s essentially like asking a 7-year-old to do math like a 16-year old.  We’re asking the stalk that’s just been planted to deliver like the 12-year-old tree.

Sungod; 48 x 48 in mixed media board  by JoAnneh NaglerWhen my daily needs are taken care of, in cash, and I am not debting to meet them, I can focus on my art.  I can focus on what’s important—that is, the long-term investment of my art—and not be sidetracked by keeping the balls in the air.

Then, my art projects get to have a natural growth arc, like children do, and grow to stand upon their own two feet.  No debt means no pressure, no angst, no drama.  That’s the only way I’ve found to quell the stress-voices and direct my heart, time, mind, and soul to where I want it to go—into my art. 

8. Beginning again - 11 x 14 - mixed media  by JoAnneh NaglerWhen we make debt-free living the centerpiece of our artistry, we always get to create with ease.  And that, over time, brings us so much more joy, happiness, and fulfillment than credit-spending ever did.  Debt-free artistry: your art deserves it and so do you. 

JoAnneh Nagler is the author of The Debt-Free Spending Plan:  The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need to Finally Make Peace with Your Money, represented by Schaffner Media Partners.  

Find JoAnneh Nagler at The Light Never Sleeps; 36 x 48 mixed media canvas by JoAnneh Nagler


Paintings in this post are all by JoAnneh Nagler.
All mixed media in the order they are shown:
Red Sea 40 x 30  2010
The Libertine 48 x 36 2009
Spiritu 48 x 36 2009
Beyond 40 x 30 2009
Falling from Heaven 60 x 48 2011
Sungod 48 x 48 2006
Beginning Again 15 x 11 2010
The Light Never Sleeps 48 x 36 2010

This post was updated on February 18, 2022, to provide current links.