Artists Tell Us How They Keep Creating When Times Are Tough

Giaco Furino for High Maintenance
Photo by Cherry Laithang

The government is running wild, the nation feels split in two, the seafloor is sinking... during these times of political and personal turmoil, it can be hard to find value in creating art. But, tough as they are, difficult times often produce new ideas and inspiration.

In the upcoming season of HBO’s anthology series High Maintenance (returning for Season 2 Fridays at 11p.m. EST), we see “The Guy,” a bike-riding weed-delivery salesman, peddle his wares to an eclectic Brooklyn clientele in need of some relief during these troubling times. But I wanted to see how real-world artists and makers continue to work through it and create good, enriching, interesting work. So I asked painters, writers, musicians, film directors how they keep creating when times are tough.


Keep Working

“It’s tough to keep it going sometimes when you know you’re one CNN article away from your whole day being ruined,” explains Matt Rubano of the band Black & Blonde. “I remember the feeling directly after the election, it felt like an overwhelming, massive defeat. But a musician friend of mine said, ‘Okay painters, writers, musicians, authors, poets… now we get to work.’” That sentiment stuck with Rubano and continues to drive him forward.

For artist Gregory Wall, making art can be a relief and escape in and of itself. “I love painting because it’s a really unique space in which you can think in a visual way and get rid of the constraints of language. It’s a place of relief in your life,” Wall explains. “You really have to give your whole attention to it and in doing so it’s kind of like meditating, you have to push everything else outside of your brain.”

Be a Beacon for Others

Author Maria Dahvana Headley says that “Just after the presidential election, I was on a book tour through a bunch of red states. My audience for my YA novels tends to be very liberal and very diverse — many queer, POC, and trans kids — and we were all scared. I grew up in Idaho in the ‘80s and ‘90s surrounded by militia members, though. I know this territory. It was my job on that tour to inspire those being targeted by this administration to first, stay alive, and second, to use their voices. It was also my job to inspire and educate those who have a lot more privilege to get in and work.”


Get Lost in Your Work

“Weaving is a long, slow repetitive process,” explains fiber artist Maryanne Moodie. The nature of her work involves putting hour after hour into a single piece. “I find the process a personal meditation. Time spent away from screens with busy hands can be soothing. I try not to spread my time and energy too thin. And self care is always at the top of my list.”



Brooks Allison, the other half of Black & Blonde, says isolation can be a real creativity killer, “It’s amazing how therapeutic it is to go meet up with a friend or be in a space with a lot of different people around.” All too often it’s easy for artists to feel alone. “I cook like crazy,” says Maria Dahvana Headley, “especially for groups of creative people. Feeding other people helps me stay sane.”


Center Yourself

For artist Nick Forker, every moment is important and worth using purposefully. “The state of the world can be suffocating,” he explains. “My advice to creators that may feel overwhelmed is this: be intentional with your time, and take up a daily meditation practice. Meditation has been the single most important decision I have made in shaping my life.”


Block Out the Noise

“I try my best to avoid the news during my creative hours,” explains Ted Geoghegan, screenwriter and director of the horror films We Are Still Here and Mohawk, “but usually fail — and the resulting stress often puts a momentary hold on my process. But as time goes by and I’m able to process it, I take those same things that upset me, place them in my work, and explain why they should upset others. I don’t hide my agenda. I embrace it.”


Try Something New

Finally, in one of the most potent moments of our chat together, Maria Dahvana Headley offers up practical wisdom for artists. “Take up a new form. Embroider instead of writing. Paint instead of singing. Do it badly, like a hobby, and not like it means everything. Do it to learn how to do something new for no reason other than beauty. Learning something new is how you keep your brain intact for the hard work of changing the world, and it also makes your brain stronger for the art you make for other people.”


Now I want to hear from you! How do you cope? How can times of adversity inspire community? Let us know in the comments below, and get some extra inspiration from the collection of personalities on High Maintenance, all navigating these very questions. Check out Season 2, Fridays at 11pm EST, for some communion, comfort and good vibes.

Giaco Furino is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between HBO’s High Maintenance and Studio@Gizmodo.

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