Recently I read the short work by Haruki Murakami entitled Novelist as Vocation. I find a lot of overlap between the creative process of writers and artists and one quote really stuck with me:

“…if you want to express yourself as freely as you can, it’s probably best not to start out by asking, ‘What am I seeking?’ Rather, it’s better to ask ‘Who would I be if I weren’t seeking anything?’

My whole life I’ve had achievement as an ingrained part of my identity (you, too?). The past few years have completely upended this and made me start asking a bigger question of myself: “Who would I be if I weren’t seeking anything?” (And specifically: what does this mean for my art?)

Haruki Murakami’s quote reminds us that sometimes the most freeing and authentic expression comes from a place of not seeking anything at all. In this post, we’ll explore how letting go of external expectations and focusing on the present moment can lead to truly captivating and original artwork.

First, let’s consider the idea of seeking. When we are seeking something, we are inherently setting expectations for ourselves and our work. We may have a preconceived notion of what success looks like, or a desire for our work to fit into a certain genre or style. This can lead to a narrow and limited view of what our artwork can be, stifling our creativity and originality. For example: do successful artists have to make a full-time living from their art to be successful?

On the other hand, when we let go of these expectations and allow ourselves to simply be in the present moment, we open up a world of possibilities. We can explore new techniques and materials, take risks, and create work that truly represents who we are as individuals. This type of expression is not only liberating for the artist, but it also has the potential to resonate with and inspire others in a powerful way. When we are most transparent and authentic to the work we create, this is when we start to really impact others, something I know many of us wish to be able to do with our art.

One way to embrace this idea is through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being fully present and engaged in the moment, without judgment. When creating art from this place, we can allow our thoughts, emotions, and experiences to flow freely into our work, without trying to control or manipulate them. This can lead to artwork that is raw, authentic, and deeply personal.

Another way to cultivate this type of freedom in our artwork is to experiment and play. Try new mediums, techniques, and styles, even if they are outside of your comfort zone. Don’t worry about the end result or whether it will be successful – instead, focus on the process and the joy of creation. You may be surprised by what you come up with.

It’s important to remember that not seeking anything does not mean not having goals or aspirations. In fact, being mindful and play are very purposeful when aligned with the values and larger goals we have for our art. It simply means letting go of the pressure to achieve certain outcomes and allowing yourself to be present and open to the creative process. This can be a liberating and rewarding experience, leading to a sense of fulfillment and purpose in your work. This has been my personal experience the times I’ve truly let go.

Personally I’ve always had a preconceived notion that I had to be a painter to be an artist and that my skill with painting determined my success. I didn’t even realize this until about a year ago. Yet here I am, using colored pencils (are they even a “real” artist medium?) to explore different ideas pouring out of me.

I will say right now this for me is a huge work in progress, but as I speak to repeatedly here on Artist Strong, ALL art is a work in progress. It’s about the process. Our culture just places way too much emphasis on the final product.

In conclusion, by embracing the idea of not seeking anything in our artwork, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities. We can allow our creativity to flow freely, experiment and play, and create work that is truly authentic and representative of who we are. So, instead of asking “What am I seeking?” consider asking yourself “Who would I be if I weren’t seeking anything?” and see where it takes you.

In this way, we can let go of external expectations and focus on the present moment, leading to truly captivating and original artwork that reflects our unique experiences, thoughts, and emotions. So, let go of the pressure, embrace the freedom, and see where your creativity takes you.