Tada! The insights of almost two decades of experience condensed for you. Now start making art already.
Five Things that you need to know about Creativity and Art Making
1. Muses: Rare visitors…
Inspiration rarely comes sweeping in on the north wind, ready to lead you, deliriously, down the road of effortlessness. Before effort though, comes the ability to engage: Even when there’s nothing particular moving you to create something, just playing with the materials without a goal in mind often sets off a chain reaction of ideas and yes, inspiration. Doodle, smear, dab, experiment, cut, roll, paste at random and trust that making art has nothing to do with thinking hard. Should you be aiming to become a professional artist, working hard, on the other hand, should be a daily mantra.
Tip: Borrow a toddler if you’re struggling with making a mess and having fun 🙂
2. Failure: The f-word
If you were, like me, brought up with rigid rules about right and wrong, and wasting things (parents of the war generation…), you might approach art making with fear and trepidation: What if I get it wrong, wasting time and valuable resources? The deeply held beliefs of judging our efforts according to failure or success have been contested by many famous people who created new ideas and inventions. It was precisely through their many failures that they found their way to achievement. Letting so-called failure demotivate you- and it is only your perception which sees it as such- instead of seeing useful stepping stones on the road to success holds us all back from expressing ourselves freely.
Tip: Embrace your mistakes. Be a kind, generous parent to your creativity.
3. Failure part 2: The pauses make the music
If it doesn’t feel right, take a break. Take a step or ten back. Look and listen. Oprah even said it- “..doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t answer. Don’t rush forward” Part of the incredible adventure that is art making is the frequent experience of present moment awareness- if you can tune in to the oft-mentioned flow or zone while creating, you will be able to feel when you’re in need of changing direction. I used to get so obsessed with finding solutions I would ignore those feelings and work myself into a dead end, winding up with negative feelings of irritation, of judging myself as having “failed”. Some days are just not going to make it- accept that perhaps you should rather be weeding the garden, phoning a friend, or taking the dog for a walk. All of which are also creative acts, or beneficial to creativity, by the way.
Tip: Don’t flog a faltering creation.
4. Learning: if the student is ready…
There’s no rule that says you must go to art school. Many good artists, pro or not, never paid for tuition. Learning about techniques, mediums, and art history can happen between you and your buddy Google; plus you will get a diversity of information that a single teacher could not possibly provide.
That said, finding-or being found by – a fantastic teacher can influence your artistic course significantly. Face to face feedback and exchange can be an important, perhaps vital, experience, if the person doing the teaching aims to provide a supportive, patient, and stimulating environment. My discovery of art certainly lay in the hands of my fun, funky and irreverent art teacher in high school. Thanks again, Mrs D’Unienville.
Tip: Find, explore, adapt, develop and trust ways that work for you, ignore the rest.
5. Growth: The importance of past and present creative community
No artist is an island. Broadening your experience of the world, and creativity specifically, by treating it as a community can only inspire and open your mind to a spectrum of possibilities. My connections with poets, photographers, writers, cooks, gardeners, moms, activists, and travellers on the web are not random interactions but fertile exchanges. This also applies to the history of art making, which never ceases to fascinate me, with its myriad of intriguing characters and astounding accomplishments. To quote John of Salisbury, 1159: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” That about sums up what the past can effect for the present. Thank you Titian, Leonardo, Cezanne, Vincent, Picasso and all the rest!!
Share your creations without fear- no-one does it just like you. Hoarding whatever treasures you think are yours to guard from theft or criticism only leads to stagnation and art that does not feel joyful to either the viewer or the creator.
Tip: try blogging, timeline surfing or art instead of pills next time you feel down :))
My development as an artist features several influential artists, the most instrumental among them my painting lecturer Johann Louw. During the two years that he guided my student efforts, I learnt how to handle criticism, believe in my style, and to know what great painting looks like by his example. Plus he was funny, in a dada kind of way as we often didn’t get his humour…only now do I fully appreciate his quirky and irreverent character!
He has since achieved international success, with a string of solo shows at leading South African Galleries, as well as shows in New York, Germany, and Australia. His paintings are powerful and layered statements , impacting on many psychological and emotional levels. I find them hypnotic, disturbing, mind-altering- a great muse!!
All images copyright Johann Louw
It sits on my easel, in shades of blue, and elicits a daily quota of sighs. Some are listless, most are downright depressed.
I swear to myself that one day I will be confident- or successful, does confidence come with success?- enough not to have to endure this horrible exercise in creative frustration. The curved horizon is a problem apparently, but I’m not far enough into the work to be able to give that particular suggestion the middle finger… I feel stifled, controlled, stopped in my flow.
To think I was excited at the start of it- a trade for a painted lounge, a long neglected form of avoiding the pitfalls of a cash oriented society; my hippy alter ego proud and singing songs of peace and liberation.
Until the demands set in. No not like that, more like this, must work with coral red wall etc etc . I’m told by more assertive artists that I should stick to my guns or rather my brushes, and provide a clear message of what you get is what you get- trusting The Artist to get it right without questioning or interference. But hey, I want the client to be happy, and tell his friends, so I’m willing to compromise. There’s always my more serious work to express my unique genius with, I try to console myself.
Still I rebel against the external censorship. I wonder if my students feel like this when I comment on their work.
I should count myself lucky that there’s no urgent deadline to this deal, but on second thought it would force me to make decisions and just get on with it- stoicism can also lead to liberation! Go Wall Street go. I’ll take my cue from you Bravehearts all over the world and march on.