How to be an artist?
June 11, 2019
First, we need to understand the “what.” This is my understanding of art: It’s not just painting or writing. Art can be anything.
Building a business, writing code, making Youtube videos, etc. It’s not the thing; it’s how it’s done. Writing a poem is art, and the writer is an artist. Someone copying that poem in verbatim is not an artist even though the end result – a poem – is exactly the same.
In today’s society, it’s necessary to be an artist more than ever. This is where creativity comes into play.
Upon hearing this, many people will say things like “I’m not creative” or “I’m not that type“ or “I don’t know how.” A while ago, I was having all these thoughts when someone talked about art. Of course, all these are false. Everyone is an artist.
Proof: You were an artist when you were a kid. By the way, look at kids playing. They are incredibly focused on their thing. They put the Lego building blocks together as they wish. They don’t ask for permission or ask others what block should go where.
So, it’s not that we don’t have the inner artist in us. It’s that we have forgotten it. We need to find it again.
This is what I have learned, and hopefully it helps you as well to be more confident in what you’re doing and having a more clear answer to questions such as “Is this creative?”
First, nothing is original. If you think about it, no artwork is entirely original. Everything derives from and builds on something.
The masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel ceiling is not entirely original. Michelangelo did not invent that type of painting; he didn’t invent composition, colors, etc.
A great example Austin Kleon brings up in his book Steal Like an Artist to illustrate this point is that not even we are original. We are a mix of the genes of our mother and father. Art is the same.
Second, in the beginning, copy, copy, and copy. We have this idea that we need to be original. This is, of course, true but it doesn’t mean we can’t copy others. I think it’s a necessary step.
This is how learning happens, as well. We imitate, and once we get good at imitating, we start to add in our own style.
So, it’s okay to copy other artists and do what they do. Later, you start adding your creativity to the mix. You add something only you can add.
Nobody can be better at being you than yourself. This happens naturally. And don’t copy just one artist, copy as many as you can. Take something from everyone you admire. It goes without saying that copy smartly.
Don’t just blindly do what they are doing, try to understand why they do what they do, and why it works.
Third, building on the last point, it’s necessary to realize that you need to start now. Don’t wait until you have figured out who you are. It will never happen by sitting down and waiting.
This is the wrong conception we have of other successful artists. We think that one day they had a magical moment of inspiration and clarity, and they became an artist.
The truth is, in the beginning, nobody knows what they are doing. This is why doing anything creative is also scary. We don’t know if we’re doing the right thing or if it even goes anywhere.
Fourth, be process-oriented, not goal-oriented. I remember when I was a kid playing with Legos, I built something, broke it down, build something completely different, and repeat that over and over again. Once my masterpiece was ready, I played with it a couple of days or so and then demolished it. It was about the process, not the result.
If the goal is to become rich or famous or have thousands of followers, you will fail. It’s simply not sustainable, because you are only focused on the goal, and because the goal is so far away, you become frustrated and quit.
Another part is that even if you do reach the goal, you won’t be fulfilled. I see this so often.
Just recently, I saw a photographer on Instagram, preaching his next goal of having 10 000 followers. What’s the point of this? Okay, let’s say he gets that. Then what? 100 000! Million! Two million! It’s endless. You’ll never have more followers than Justin Bieber anyway.
So in the game of having more money or more of this or that you will always lose. That’s guaranteed. I’m not saying, you shouldn’t have many followers, but that in itself should not be a goal.
If you’re a writer, same Spiel: it’s obviously necessary to have a finished book as your goal but if you don’t like writing, then count yourself out.
If you enjoy the process, the goal will come by itself as a bonus. To conclude this long prose: do good work and share it with people. That’s it.
I based this article mostly on the many great ideas I learned from Austin Kleon and his book Steal Like an Artist. In fact I very very much also recommend his second and third book of the trilogy as well. Show Your Work! and Keep Going.