Is there a way to be an artist where you don’t look at everything you create and think it’s lame? I procrastinate because I’m not even sure if me or my work is any good. I don’t
want to waste my life making a bunch of bad art. Any ideas?
The fact that you don’t like your own work hints strongly that you are a real artist. But when you say that you don’t want to “waste my life making a bunch of bad art,” you are essentially identifying yourself as an artist. Because a non-artist would say, “hey, as long as they’re paying me I’ll make whatever kind of art they want.” Real artists might get paid for their work, but they never create the work with the intention of collecting pay. That kind of external objective only gets in the way.
A real artist isn’t making art for an audience. Not really. Not deep down. They’re making it simply to realize it. It is inside them and they want others to be able to appreciate it too. There is a motivation to create newness in the universe. To expand it with visual ideas, or ideas expressed with paint or through dance etc. etc. etc. But regardless of the art-form, it is that curiously inexplicable internal drive to bring something into existence that makes someone an artist.
So this all starts some curiously ethereal, semi-spiritual congealing of a concept in someone’s head. And that concept sprouts and begins to grow. The creation is its own thing and it is flowing through the artist and into the work. Almost as through a creative, spiritual energy is being converted by the artist into either solid, three-dimensional matter, or it is being converted into appreciable action. Either way, in the end, the art itself is more an experience than a thing.
At its highest levels the mindset for artistic expression is very close to the one for enlightenment. But for that to happen the artist must work without ego. This is a strange place where you’re not a bad artist and you’re not a great artist, because in that mindset there is no artist, nor is there a work of art. In the proper mindset these two things—the action of the artist and this result of the art—merge into one entity. It is the experience of creation. And when that’s going best is when most artists almost feel guilty because the work comes so easily. To paraphrase Andre Gide, “Art is a collaboration between God and the artist and the less the artist does the better.”
The trick is to quiet your ego so the art can flow. It’s as though there is a creative force out there and we are its tools. But that force can only speak through us if our personal selves are quiet. So if you feel blocked, then really it’s just that your self-discussions about your fears and concerns are drowning out your connection to the natural flow of existence that causes original ideas to spawn out of imagination and into being.
Artists are the people plugged into this aspect of the universe and its fundamentally infinite nature. If it’s infinite then someone must bring that infiniteness into being, whether that’s the creative person who finds a new galaxy far far away, or whether it’s a different sort of creative person who manages to somehow paint the agony of loss or heartache. So whether they are Galileo or Julian Schnabel, we all benefit from not worrying about what other people will think. Because artists are at their best when they are unencumbered by limits, judgments, premonitions or fears. That leaves them with way more energy to use in their art, but it also means the artist has a sharper focus on the realization itself.
If you’re procrastinating it’s because your own distracted, noisy, busy, judgmental thinking is talking you out of the art. You’re worried about the reaction. You’re worried about the judgment. You’re worried what you or what other people will think when it’s done. But do you see that’s all egos reacting? The fact that I can list them as you or them immediately identifies them as separate and therefore egoic rather than spiritual concepts.
To create great art simply stop getting in its way with judgmental self-conversations. Trust your role as a pencil and let the muse write. Don’t question how people will react because everyone’s experience is internal and personal anyway, so there is no actual reaction to the work, there is merely everyone’s personal experiential reaction—including the artist’s.
To use the language of Andre Gide, if you are acting as God’s pencil then do not offend the universe by adding friction to the writing process by second-guessing your motivations. The fact that your motivations came to you as feelings and not narrative arguments is your first sign that you’re on the right track. Trust those feelings. There is no right or wrong art to create. People’s reactions are not the point. You are not a show-person, you are an archeologist and the work isn’t about satisfying others. It’s always just about uncovering the part of the universe that was calling to you to be realized. Your ability to hear that voice is why they call art a calling and not a job. So go quiet, just listen, and then create. Because it’s not like you have to become an artist. You already are one. You just have to go quiet enough to be able to hear your instructions.
Don’t forget to enjoy the process.
Have a great day.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.