The Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up: Fronting, Stuck, Hiding and Running Away

by Atim Annette Oton

My last 13 years of working with artists and designers have revealed some deep and critical issues about how they handle themselves in crisis or make critical decisions. What it shows are four destructive paths that form the basis of self sabotage and result in failure, so when I began to write this blog, I reflected on the notes I kept over the last 2 years. Here are 5 deadly excerpts that I have experienced since consulting some of them in the last 5 years from the crash of 2008:

Scenario 1: Designer tells all her friends to have insurance but has none, then loses day job, gets sick and is in coma. 

Scenario 2: Artists quits his job, has no plan, but exhibitions and grants. A year later, he is broke, and borrows money from friend to pay rent. And all his friends think he is doing well.

Scenario 3: Designer is overworked, he gets sick, goes to hospital, checks himself out and dies. No insurance and has too many clients at Christmas season.

Scenario 4: Artist has steady stream of income until 2008 when economy crashed. She is still working the same plan and getting 20% of income. She has not invented or created a new income stream. Still hoping for pre-2008 times.

Scenario 5: Designer on Facebook. Life is sunny. Or so it seems. Behind the smiles and postings…but the reality is that the designer just lost space and business due to family crisis.

2013 has been a year of realness and if you are not dealing in truth and reality as a designer or an artist, it is giving you hard knocks and showing you that fake facades do not work in the real world. Simply, if your foundation is weak, it has and is crumbling. The five scenarios above are real stories of this year. Each demonstrate lessons of how artists and designers get stuck, hide from the truth, pretend everything is okay or run away from dealing with issues. Each is deadly and result in failure.


I love art but…I have lost my voice…I don’t know where to begin.- Erica Meade

Scenario 4: Artist has steady stream of income until 2008 when economy crashed. She is still working the same plan and getting 20% of income. She has not invented or created a new income stream. Still hoping for pre-2008 times.

stuckSome artists and designers are experiencing a mental block, a place of non-movement, and a place I defined as stuck. This has left them frustrated, inadequate and angry. How they came to this place is not just their fault but it is part of a life process as a creative person. When you are stuck, you exhibit the following characteristics: avoid people, situations and tasks, have bad habits, criticize others, procrastinate, seek perfectionism and are negative about things.

If you are stuck, you end up not doing anything, your work stays the same, you do not finish projects and it can take a long time to get out of this state without help. A few artists talk about how they deal with being stuck, they call it getting in a creative rut:

“I read poetry… Rumi, Neruda, Rilke, and my own poetry, to remind myself of my own art. The words help me to see shapes, colors, form, which then inspire me to write, paint and create.” — Arica Hilton, Poet/Artist

“If I get into a creative rut, I take a long bath, light a candle, and listen to soft music followed by a nice long slumber. After a restful night’s sleep, I often wake to a morning of refreshing ideas!” — Dee Alexander, vocalist


What are you hiding? No one ever asks that. – Sarah Vowell

Onstage, there’s no hiding; you either can or can’t act. There’s no second take. Anna Friel

Scenario 2: Artists quits his job, has no plan, but exhibitions and grants. A year later, he is broke, and borrows money from friend to pay rent. And all his friends think he is doing well.

hidingWhen artists and designers are not ready to deal with the world, they hide away from it. Hiding keeps an artist safe but it makes them obsolete unlike a working artist who is always around doing shows, producing work and networking. Hiding keeps you away from opportunity and people really forget about you. Imagine being asked to be on a panel at a funeral? Yes, that happened to an artist I know. So, when you hide away as a creative person, you make it easy for yourself to be a non working artist and not to be seen.

My last blog, Succeeding an Artist and Designer, defined some of artists and designers bad habits; and one of them was networking. When you are not working, it’s best to do meet people. Hiding in your studio does not grow your circle or make you grow. And during slow times, a creative person makes Personal Development be a priority.


Scenario 5: Designer on Facebook. Life is sunny. Or so it seems. Behind the smiles and postings…but the reality is that the designer just lost space and business due to family crisis.


This year, I watched an artist and designer spend the time everyday posting happy things and positive motivational words and images on Facebook but the irony is that these two people were in crisis. I know that Facebook is not the place where people are really Real but to watch these postings was painful as I knew the truth behind the facade, there were having so many issues. One lost his work space, and the other her apartment. I feel your pain, but if some of your contacts knew what was going on, maybe they could of helped in some way.

Pretending that everything is alright has become the status quo for artists and designers these last five years. To deal with themselves, some are creating a fake facade of reality. I know, I have had to tell about 6 artists and designers to post on their pages that they are looking for a job and in less than a week, all of them got a job or gig.

Running Away:

Early this month, I got an early morning call from an artist who was experiencing a problem and in that conversation, I dared to ask the question: when you face an issue, what do you normally do? She said, I run away. Yes, a grown-up said that. I should have been shocked but since I spent 6 years at Parsons with creative students, I had seen and experienced this before. My role was to go find that runaway student even if it meant going into bathrooms to find them.

Running away is the easiest thing that creative people do, it’s like hiding except it is more destructive. It means you avoid dealing with things and postpone the issue. A designer I was working with told me they avoided some issue for five years, and when I asked what was the end result, she said, “well, I can no longer work with those clients anymore”. What was the issue? She could not deliver her designs on time and she gained a reputation. So, I asked, What did you learn from it? She said, I just moved on to the next clients. I responded, you lost money. Business is about repeat business.


To move away from the Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up, I have 4 innovative concepts for artists and designers: Paradigm Shift, Truth and Reality, Taking Stock and Getting Help, Mining Your Resources and Setting a Path.

Paradigm Shift:

2008 marked a huge Paradigm Shift, a new way of being, working and thinking. Some creative people got it, but a lot missed it. It was a huge change and redefined how things worked. Forget the financial crisis, 2008 marked a point where ideas and beliefs shifted dramatically. It was a point to see things differently, to try a new perspective and work differently. Not just a place to think outside the box but a place and point to remove the box. Imagine that. Edward Glassman, PhD writes that “a paradigm shift changes your belief structure and your perspective so you see things differently and creatively”.


If Cubism and Dada changed the attitude and thinking of artists and debunking the realm of possibilities an art work could depict, imagine what could have happened for artists in 2008 if something new emerged? There was an upheaval, a radial change; and even five years later, I am looking to artists and designers to create that new space and thinking. And they should start with their work and themselves.

Truth and Reality:

truthToo many artists and designers are refusing to face the truth of what is happening to them. Life has dynamically changed and when I counsel them, I do a session on truth- how to tell the truth about what is going on with themselves, their work and relationships – personal and business. The truth shall set you free is a key statement of this session. It frees you to be yourself, the real you. That freedom lets you redefine things more clearly and straightforwardly.


If you are honest with yourself as an artist or designer, you stop covering up the truth from yourself. If you have not exhibited work in a year, then, you are not a working artist. Let’s be real, working artists create work and exhibit or sell it. Art is their main gig and not the hobby, so they work on developing, nurturing and growing it even with a full-time job. I am a watcher of artists and designers and when I meet one, my first question usually is – where did you exhibit or show recently? Or, what new work are you making?


The reality of telling yourself the truth makes you responsible, less insecure and engage in changing things in your life and career as a creative person. I often say, be real with yourself and you can solve anything. I make creative people do a reality check – from analyzing how many times they are showing work, selling work, making new work and even networking. The list is enormous because, quite frankly, a real creative person is running a business and not playing the old stereotype of the starving artist.

Taking Stock and Getting Help:


It takes about three meetings with artists and designers who are stuck, fronting, hiding or running away to real get to the essence of what is going on. Why? Creative people are the most creative about lying to themselves and others. I have to dig deeper, and since I know what they can hide, I keep digging. They make the sessions I have with them interesting. It does take a creative mind to come up with layers of excuses and to bury things. I call this process, taking stock. It is the gathering of all the issues, problems and seeing what is working and not working.


Taking stock is about taking a moment, to evaluate and measure where you are in life. It’s a vital check in. I often advice creative people to do it every season. And in New York, there are four seasons, so four times to see where things are. It is a way of knowing what you have done so far, what you need to do and a way of creating a list for the future. And after you have taken stock, I often tell artists and designers to get help if they need it at this point.

help_keyboardGetting help is simple. If you know you need to do taxes, you will see an accountant. So, why is it that when you are stuck, running away or fronting, you avoid talking to someone? I am bold to tell creative people that they need therapy. Talking to someone that can unwind them from their stuck stage is a strategy I use. Help comes in all forms, and most creative people wait until they are almost a foot in the grave before they actually reach out. I usually get the emergency call to help, so these days, I am blogging to say to all creative people, it’s much easier to help you earlier. Simply, I can solve the problem faster and suggest options.

Mining Your Resources and Setting a Path
career-change1Sometimes, I cannot believe how many artists and designers do not use their own resources: contacts and networks, funds and brains. Yes, I dare say it – brains. So many have stopped thinking creatively. They have stopped connecting the dots and are working in silos. The creative sector is about relationships, collaboration and partnerships. It has never been about the solitary artist or designer. That’s a myth.

As a designer and business person, I have “mined” my resources. It is how I have moved from place to place and built my career and business. I can see that physically from where I sit in my store. My broker is a person I knew well enough to ask her to get me a space on Franklin Avenue at a reasonable rate because I wanted to build a business on that avenue after the fire I experienced.

The main message I give to artists and designers is to change, you have to create and set a path. I call it setting goals and objectives that you can implement. Yes, you must define where you want to go in your career and life. Some artists and designers created a path 20 years ago, since 2008, its time to dust that plan off and create a new path. What worked 20 years ago does not necessary work today and tomorrow.

The Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up: Fronting, Stuck, Hiding and Running Away is a place of fear and marks a path to failure. Changing this notion is a process and some artists and designers understand there are in trouble, while others are afraid to admit there is a problem. If you are interested in making a shift, I will be hosting a series of webinars in October, please email me at


One response to “The Artist’s and Designer’s Cover-up: Fronting, Stuck, Hiding and Running Away”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: