I listened to an interview a while ago where the artist felt a lot of pressure to make art that “changes the world.” She discovered her current art interest in part because she felt enjoyment from the process. She also felt free from the pressure of making “important” art. I’ve felt this before, too. School communicated, as did my art history studies, that art of worth has gravity, deals with social change, and stands for something. I’m giving myself, and you, permission today to “just” make art.
Van Gogh comes to mind for today’s discussion. During his lifetime he only ever sold one artwork and it was to his brother. No sales. Critics disparaged and dismissed his work. He spent some of his life in an asylum and painted while he was there, too. He was a man compelled to create, though the world around him felt his work to be NOT valuable, not important, and NOT world changing.
Today, his work has influenced countless artists, inspired millions of people, and his art sells for hundreds of millions of dollars! I can’t quite fathom this. SO important and key: if van Gogh allowed contemporary definitions of success to dictate his work, would he have continued to create? And would that work have the level of impact his work did today?! He ignored pressures of “changing the world” because his desire to create outweighed those pressures. He chose to keep painting, and keep painting. And the irony? His work HAS changed the world.
Research by Dr. Brown of Play found a correlation between lack of play as a child and acts of crime as an adult (by those same children). While this does not clearly show cause and effect, it does suggest a lack of play (hello, opportunity for creative expression!) can be tied to poor choices as an adult, which lead to prison. It makes me wonder: if those adults as children were encouraged in environments that celebrate creative expression, would they have committed those same crimes? What would our world look like today?
When we remove play from our lives and insist on pressures of success, of gravity, of importance, we take away the very joys that make us a pleasant human to be around. When we prioritize everything but our art (play)… well, I see resentment in our future. And resentment does not breed an environment that changes our world for the better.
It’s not your art that has to contribute to our world: it’s you. And if making art gives you emotional space to be kinder, more giving, etc. then making art IS a service to the world.
Instead of adding more pressure to an already vulnerable experience: what if you gave yourself permission to make art? And not just any kind of art, but BAD art: the kind of art you are already scared you make. Can you imagine the freedom that would ensure? The experimentation? Know what else would happen? You’d become more skillful, and sooner too. Because you’d be making more art.
What if by making the art that excites us and draws us in, we are making important art? And this art and our actions, contribute to a better world?
What if, it’s not the art that changes the world, but our choice to create that does? Art is life changing. And rather than intimidating, I find that quite comforting, indeed.
Be Creatively Courageous: Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic, I’d like you to create an actual permission slip for you to make BAD art. Once you have it, post it in your workspace. And share it to our FB Group!
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