How exactly can you become your best artist self?
This is a question I’m investigating this month with others in my challenge #BeCreativelyCourageous. We are talking about success, dedication, and scaffolding our way to our own, unique, specific definitions of growth, success and discovery.
A LOT of the books I read deal with this. I’m obsessed with reading about business or art and the process behind it all. I want to know the psychology behind it. And I want all of us to be able to directly apply the ideas in those works to our art. This month, I want to remind you of 3 important ones that relate directly to this idea. We CAN become our best artist self, but we need to understand and use the tools that can get us there.
First, we must understand: our choice to create means we WILL make bad art.
All of our art will not be bad. ALL of our art will not be bad. But… in order to get to that good stuff, we have to create. And keep creating. This means, some of it will not be to our high standards. And yet, we will never reach those high standards without that “crap.” This was a big lesson and reminder for me in Big Magic, which recently came out in paperback. I feel this is so important it needs to be repeated: the ONLY way you will ever make good art is if you make bad art. So, strategy number one? Be committed to making… you guessed it… BAD art!
Another important lesson for me is that habits don’t take effort. You heard me correctly: habits don’t take effort. Know why? Because they are a habit! It certainly doesn’t take me any effort to brush my teeth every morning. I don’t have to think about doing it, I don’t need to cajole myself to use the toothbrush and rid myself of my dragon breath. I just do it. What does take some effort, is to make something a habit. And that’s where us artists can get confused. We think the effort will last forever, and that it will always be hard to cultivate an artist habit. And yet, once we create a true habit, the difficulty is gone.
Better than Before talks about how we can cultivate habits that help us be our best selves and honor the hopes and dreams we want in our lives. I’ve noticed this quite recently with my embroidery work. I don’t think about it anymore: at night, when I decide there is no more screen time, I sit on my couch, put on a podcast, and stitch. It’s not work anymore to motivate to do it, because I already put in the time to build this activity into a habit. I easily stitch everyday.
This is something a lot of artists need to think about carefully. I have some “rebels” in this special community of ours that say they don’t like rules. Exactly! Habits aren’t about rules, they are about freeing ourselves from the effort and feeling of obligation to create. Habits literally create space and freedom to make more art!
Another piece of this puzzle that’s been a big lesson for me is just how valuable and important being bored is. Yup! Being bored. Idle time is a super important part of creative process. And anyone inventing things, making huge systemic changes in our culture, or making great discoveries, ensure they have scheduled time for idle life. This means: no Instagram or Pinterest, no Netflix, no flipping through Buzzfeed. Huge shifts in the way we think and see the world occur when we give our mind time to daydream, explore, and be bored. This is part of a book entitled Deep Work, which I highly recommend. I’ve recently begun to use some of the strategies the author recommends and I’m seeing huge strides in productivity, in part because I’m open to the idea of being idle.
So many times I can remember reading books about the arts, and while in university, studying, hoping for some answers of what would make me a better artist. At the time, it was all about skill. How can I be more skillful? How can I draw more realistically? And for many, I believe skill is still the concern, or insecurity, that is the hidden underpainting in the work. Good news: skill is something we can ALL develop. Skill can and will improve if we take a focused approach to learning new things (also about Deep Work).
Not once did I have a professor tell me these things, or an artist friend! It was never about making bad art, it was always asking WHY was I making art? What was I trying to say? There was encouragement to always be painting, but from the history books and peers it seemed like it was a commitment and labor to get to the studio, not a natural part of anyone’s day. And of course, today, the idea we could sit down for a single minute without taking out our phone feels threatening to many. And yet, doing so could hold us hostage from our best art.
Be Creatively Courageous: Which of these three strategies do you feel is most threatening? Which one gets you feeling defensive? THAT is exactly where you need to go. Take a risk: talk to us about it below.