We live in hectic times. Ten-year-olds have college test prep tutors, middle school kids are getting diagnosed with burnout, and if you’re not on a “30 under 30” list by the time you’re 20, well, what are you doing wasting time reading this article? Talk to me when your painting auctions for 10 million at Christie’s. Tick, tick.
Since life started moving at warp speed and 25 became the new 45, an ugly new phenomenon has been rearing its head across the world—art world included.
The quarter-life crisis needs no introduction. If you’ve already experienced one, you already know exactly what I’m talking about; if you haven’t, you’re either thirteen or a Baby Boomer. But in case you’ve somehow managed to defy the inertia of our generation—or you’re an alien that recently touched down on this planet and you’re reading this article to learn to pass for a Millennial—here’s a handy checklist of telltale signs of quarter-life crisis.
We’ve all been there.
To the outside world, the art world might look like a golden bubble of luxury, creativity and endless champagne showers, but those of us on the inside know that, contrary to what Chelsea Girls might have led you to believe, life isn’t one giant party. And even when it is—okay, I’ll admit it often is—more often than you’d like your mom, your IG followers and your therapist to believe, you’re stuck feeling like the Velvet Underground’s poor girl, wondering what the hell she’ll wear to all tomorrow’s parties. And more importantly, how she’ll afford any of it on her minimum-wage gallerina salary.
As overheard by any gallerina you know.
The point being, artists and the people who make a living selling, studying, showing, talking and writing about their work are no less susceptible to the wrath of the quarter-life crisis. Actually, we might even be more at risk than your average Millennial trapped in a soulless desk job.
For one thing, disillusionment stinks that much more when it’s wafting off the dish that you’ve been salivating over your whole life: your dream job in the art world. Plus, there’s the inescapable fact of social media. For better or for worse, Instagram now rules the art world, putting a social media cleanse out of the question for most of us—unless you want to be cleansed of your job, too.
And while IG has endless capacity to connect and inspire, unfortunately, what it often inspires is jealousy that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. One second you’re innocently catching up on all the highlights from Basel for your very legitimate, work-related task; the next, you’ve somehow ended up on the gallery bathroom floor, sobbing in fetal position after finding out that your ex’s new girlfriend just got a job at the Met—and on top of that, she’s rocking bangs as shamelessly as 2012 Taylor Swift and still somehow looks like Caroline de Maigret. When this happens, remember that you haven’t seen them when they’re plastered on her forehead after a shower. Not cute.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to come to that. With a little distance and maturity—and when that fails, some nifty coping strategies by yours truly—you can slip easily out of those occasional, unavoidable, social-media-triggered bouts of existential anguish.
Obviously, the simple but oh-so-difficult cure is to get off your phone as much as possible—these apps are literally designed to make you feel bad about yourself so you get addicted and keep scrolling, so staying balanced while staying plugged in often feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. Still, it’s definitely worth learning to navigate social media with increased self-awareness, putting up a mental guard between yourself and unreal, extremely curated images that you see. These are the the long-term solutions.
And as for the short-term ones? Well, next time you feel an oncoming wave of quarter-life crisis, here’s what you do.
You, transcending your quarter-life crisis.
1) Give yourself a day off from being you.
Think all-out Freaky Friday mode: put on an outfit that you would never wear, grab lunch somewhere you would never eat, put on a playlist that you would never listen to, head to the local museum and linger in front of a painting that would never catch your eye. Paint your nails black with a topcoat of purple glitter. Anything, as long as it jolts you out of your routine existence. A silly exercise on the surface, but it’s one of the most effective ways of unblocking anything inside you that might have crusted over. Guaranteed to make you question what really makes you you, and what lies on the other side of that. The perfect experiment next time you feel trapped inside your own mediocre life—a reminder that you can be anything you want; your only limits are the ones you impose on yourself with your own thoughts. It might sound a bit cliché, but it’s also a cosmic truth. Just try it.
Minimum level of weirdness of your outfit for this exercise.
2) FaceTime that one best friend that always makes you feel like you’re floating on a cloud.
Don’t even text her and schedule a time to chat—you know you’ll both inevitably forget about it—just pick up the phone and dial.
3) Re-read old summer camp letters, notes that former lovers left on your pillow, or a journal entry from a really, really good day.
Steep in the feeling of casual, unexamined bliss. Remember that you were a person before you fell into the art world vortex and maybe, just maybe, you can be a person again.
4) Hold an impromptu naked dance party in your living room.
Speaks for itself, I think.
5) Spend some time in nature.
Even if that means sitting on your fire escape and listening to a playlist of birds chirping. The only rule: no phones allowed.
6) Walk through your neighborhood and look at people’s faces.
Like, really peer through their eyes and into the depths of their soul (sunglasses are strongly advised for this exercise). Great exercise for when you’re deep in the social media hole and need to be reminded that people exist IRL, not as highly retouched cyborgs on screens. Real life is where the magic happens, remember?
7) Spend a few hours with your favorite music, art, writing, film.
Any creative content will do, as long as it reminds you why you fell in love with art in the first place. Who cares if Francesca got to go to Basel even though you’ve been working longer hours all year and she won’t stop posting about it? Water under the bridge.
8) Curate your social media feed.
You’re already spending half your life on Instagram, so you might as well make it a nice place to be. Detox your feed by unfollowing accounts that make you feel less than ebullient and thrilled to be alive, then lurk around for a few minutes discovering new accounts that lift your spirits and make you happy to be part of the human species. That way, at least your scrolling addiction will inspire you instead of making you want to strangle yourself with Alexis Ren’s tiny string bikini.
Notice that this is the only exercise that requires the use of your phone.
9) Take a bath.
Just take a nice, long bath. The world always looks better after a bath. Then, as a bonus, go to bed at 8:30. You’ll wake up feeling like a new person.
And don’t forget the bubbles!
10) Cuddle a dog.
Remember that life outside of your infinitesimal existence is an endless river of joy that keeps flowing completely regardless of whether you gained or lost 23 followers that day.
Images via Pinterest, @popcultureinpictures, YouTube