There are so many ideas and so little time when it comes to our art. How do we choose the best idea and which one to finish? Hi, I’m Carrie from Artist Strong and today we’re going to talk about the myth that you should finish all of your art.
Today’s video is full of notes. This one is a topic that is really important to address, so you’ll see me looking down and it’s because I want to make sure I cover all of the key points I want to discuss with you today. Should we finish all of our art? This is a question that keeps coming up.
What gave us this idea? There’s this notion in our definition of success as artists that if we don’t finish all of our work we’ve failed. Yet, one of the most revered artists in history barely finished any artwork. In fact, this artist only finished 14 or 15 artworks in his lifetime, and many, many others were unfinished. It’s actually said that on his deathbed he felt regret that he hadn’t finished more.
That doesn’t change the way that we perceive the name Leonardo Da Vinci. Some people might feel he’s overrated and that’s fair and fine. However, there’s a whole society today that knows that name, or they know the images of his artwork such as the Mona Lisa because we feel he is so successful. He is the definition of renaissance man, right?
Here’s someone that’s supposed to be super talented, skillful, and informed across many disciplines including the arts, so isn’t that interesting that someone who we put up on this pedestal of success has barely finished 15 artworks in his lifetime?!
A better question to ask ourselves is: will you make more art if you follow that spark? A lot of artists come to me and talk about having a weakness, which is that they struggle to finish their art. What if that’s actually just a natural part of our creative process?
Some people don’t finish the art as a way to protect themselves, so I do think there are groups of people who avoid finishing their art because, well, what if it’s bad? Or, what if I’m not as skillful as I thought? Or, what if people won’t like it? Having unfinished work feels safer than actually finishing the work and facing possible criticism or negative feedback about the art. There are lots of you who make lots of art because you have lots of ideas and you finish the work that engages you the most.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which one fits your description, really you’re the one that knows the answer to that. When you talk about struggling to finish your work, do you think that it’s a natural part of your process and it’s okay to have lots of unfinished work because you are finishing some work? Or do you think it’s a way to cope with that fear of rejection or the fear that we’re not good enough? That’s an important factor in this discussion today.
I have a story for you, and it’s not exactly about art but it shows you how having inner rules about stuff like this can be limiting. When I was younger I felt like I had to start and finish one book at a time when I read and that if I didn’t finish one book I couldn’t start a new one.
I have no idea why I had this idea, but there were times that was really limiting. I got bored of a book or I just didn’t enjoy it as much, or it was a slow read because it was a difficult read and it might have been nice to take a break and read something else. How much less did I read because I had this arbitrary rule set for myself?
The same could be said for our art. What if we make less art because we have this rule that we must paint one at a time or that we have to finish all of our unfinished pieces, even though we have this new idea that really excites us? I don’t want arbitrary rules that come from institutions or from your inner critic to dictate how you create. I want your heart to dictate how you create. That’s part of what I’m emphasizing for you today when we’re talking about this myth.
I want to give you some strategies to help you decide: how do you know if it’s an idea that will stick? First, we have to deal with our mindset and then it’s about reflection.
Give up the idea you must finish every piece
The first strategy is to give up the idea that you must finish every piece that you make. Instead, see each artwork as a trial or an experiment. Experiments mean that you’re testing things, there isn’t necessarily a definitive yes or no, an experiment gives you more information to make new decisions.
What if each artwork is an experiment rather than this finished artwork with a clear start and stop? What if it’s a stepping stone to a later artwork that could really inform your work, all of your work, and a series and your portfolio and even a later exhibition?
Work on multiple projects
Step one is to give up that idea that you have to finish it. Step two is to work on multiple projects to keep your interest going, because of course we can get bored. If you are like me and you have multiple interests in different media, well, why not have multiple projects going on but let yourself jump back and forth so that you can feel the excitement of working? You can keep going on those works, but also know when to step away and have something else to work on as well.
Be mindful about how you share your work
I do want to note as well, I’m looking at my notes again, that I don’t think that you should share work like this with others if you’re feeling especially vulnerable about it. If you have this vulnerability or fear around sharing your work then that could be tied to this fear of: “I don’t want to complete work because someone might judge it.” Don’t share your work if you feel that kind of state.
It’s more important for you to just make, and if you’re going to share it make sure you choose someone you can really trust who understands the feeling of vulnerability you have around your art. That’s how you know you’re going to let an idea stick. Because if you even share just the idea itself too soon and you haven’t even made the art, if someone places judgement on it, that can color the way that you look at your work.
Once you’ve one these three things, I want you to then address the following questions:
Why does this new idea feel exciting or interesting?
You’re going to get new ideas as they come along, so how do you decide which ones to keep, right? Ask yourself: how does it align with the current larger goals that I’m making?
For example, I have a series of embroidered mandalas but I’m also doing some hand drawn ones now because I wanted to mix things up. I’ll still have at the end a whole bunch of artwork that deals with mandalas, so there’s continuity for me to promote and sell my art.
Do you feel challenged by the idea?
If you think it’s going to take you outside your comfort zone, or help you develop your skill, or help you grow as an artist, then that might be an idea worth going for even though you have all these other projects going.
Lastly, is it a refreshing break from other projects?
If you have one project going and it’s been a really long one, like, someone in our community did 100 symbols as part of a 100 art project. That’s a really long commitment, especially depending on the scale with which you’re working.
If that sounds really scary or intimidating, why not say, you know what, I’m gong to do 8 to 12 works with this idea. (It doesn’t have to mean the same medium.) I’m going to see what happens. For example if I get this spark to explore I might say to myself: “you know what, I’ve enjoyed my mandalas and embroidery and by hand, what if I mix the two now?” Well, I’m going to let myself play: it still ties to the larger investigation that I’m curious about and yet it also spices things up for me so I don’t get bored.
Once you reflect on these questions I want you to listen to that inner artist that comes up. We have an intuitive guide in our minds and hearts that helps us know yes or no to things. When we meet people sometimes we have a gut reaction to them. It’s this same tool that we can use to help us with decisions like this.
If you have a new idea you want to investigate, does it really light you up or is it going to fizzle away? Is it something that you know you want to dig into and get to know better? You need to ask yourself that question and then give yourself the mental quiet space or the environment to help you hear the answer. We can get really clouded in our minds, or busy, so finding a way to clear our mind and ask ourselves that question and reflect will help us find that answer.
I really believe that when we listen to our inner artist, those are the ideas that stick. Those are the ones that stick because our inner artist is guiding us. That gut feeling is guiding us to make artistic choices that suit our life, that suit our interests and suit the kind of art we want to investigate.
Of course, there are always more ideas that come your way, so what do you do with them?
I have a couple of things that I do. One is, I always journal every day, I have a journal that I take with me, I keep a smaller notebook sometimes in my purse, so that if I’m out and about I have it as a place to take notes or write down ideas.
I collect every idea I have on paper or on the computer. I want it written down. I want this “ideas dump” to happen so that when I do feel stuck, because sometimes that happens too, I then have those resources and those ideas on hand and I can see if any of them light me up again when I finish another project or I’m feeling stuck.
The other tool that I use is Asana, A-S-A-N-A.com. I’ll make sure you have the link. It’s an online space where you can outline and develop projects or make lists of to-dos, things like that, and have calendar dates tied to them.
I have one category of project on Asana that is Ideas for my Art. I list them there so that as things build up I can refer back to it. What’s nice about Asana is it’s cloud based, so wherever I am in the world or as I travel I can pop on and check that account and see what ideas I have depending on the resources I have around me.
Be Creatively Courageous: I’d like you, in the comments below, to describe one artwork that you now plan to finish because of today’s conversation OR one artwork that you plan to now let go of because of what we’ve talked about today. Tell us about it and let’s celebrate. Of course, if you know anyone who can benefit from today’s video please share it. Thanks guys for watching, and I’ll see you next week. Bye.
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