Beyond Inspiration: What it REALLY Takes to be an Artist

The Essential Ingredients for Making Art

The Essential Ingredients for Making Art

I talk a lot about inspiration. Being “inspired” is a powerful experience – it’s what kindles the need to make art (at least, for me). So it’s easy to believe that inspiration is the primary ingredient of art making.

Van Gogh was inspired by the colors of the landscape…
Tolkein was inspired by mythology…

Well, here’s the rub. Excluding the times when I’m sleep deprived, worn out from too many social events (we introverts gotta recharge, y’know), or stuck indoors for too long, I’d say I’m basically always “inspired”. There’s LOTS of stuff that gives me that hot-skinned, frenzied urge to make art. But am I always making it? Does every inspiration lead to a tangible creation on my part? No.

It’s a real coming-of-age experience when you grow up wanting to be an artist, only to realize that, just like everything else
it’s a lot of work.

Inspiration is a fine ingredient, but it doesn’t make art. It’s really only the first step.

Then comes the planning, the choosing of materials, the mastering of materials, the focusing (and re-focusing…and refocusing some more), and the entire process of getting it done.

It takes willpower. Willpower is the determination to get it done despite difficulty, unexpected turns in the process, and distractions. It’s having the persistence to practice and develop your skills, to force yourself to grow. It’s being committed to seeing it through, no matter what.

It takes purpose. There has to be a reason for why you are putting in the effort at all. If there’s no reason why the art should get made, then why not just stay in the comfortable, no-effort-needed state of inspiration? Inspiration itself is not a purpose, but wanting to SHARE what inspired you is. Knowing you have something you can give to the world is a purpose. (So is knowing that if you DON’T make it, you’ll lose your paying client. But that’s another story…). Connecting to people by sharing the way you see the world – that is a worthy purpose.

Being an artist also takes confidence. Throughout the process, you’ll have your doubts. You’ll think you’re doing it wrong, or that you have NO idea what you’re doing at all, or that you’re wasting your time. The process will start going differently than you expected, and you’ll start to worry that it’ll kill you in an inferno of fiery embarrassment. But if you know your purpose, then you can at least have confidence in your voice. And then you can decide, despite all doubts, to at least pretend you feel confident in your abilities. You SHOULD be confident! Skill-wise, you are where you are. You’re not perfect – you’ll always be learning – but for now, you’re exactly where you need to be in your development. For me, deciding to just be confident, regardless of how lame I actually feel, is the key to keeping unhelpful thoughts from convincing me to give up. It’s a way of prioritizing what self-talk I’m going to allow myself to listen to. I don’t have time for Mr. Brain’s negative propaganda. I’m only going to pay attention to the critiques that are constructive.

And finally, it takes faith. Faith that your project will turn out, even if you aren’t sure where it’s headed right now. Faith that your art will succeed at communicating something when it’s finished. And faith in art, period. You have to believe that art is worthwhile, that it is an essential part of being human. Believe that your contribution will provide something valuable to people.

It will. (But only if you share it!)

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