Is it Art Talent Or Art Work?
Dear Wonderful, Creative You:
Over the last two weeks, we engaged in a simple art challenge. The idea was to create for a short period of time, on a small square, every day for 12 days. You were invited to let go of perfectionism and embrace play and exploration.
So many of you reached out to tell me how powerful this exercise has been for restarting your creative engine, getting the inner critic out of the way, and finding inspiration again.
But for some of us, the voice of the inner critic was too harsh. If you found your inner critic came out swinging – comparing you to others, and telling you not to bother, I have a direct, but I hope, encouraging message for you.
Let’s think through this process of comparison. You see another person’s work, you admire it, and then you immediately engage in negative self-talk about how your art is terrible in comparison.
The inner critic is afraid – of criticism, failure, and not being accepted. If it feels right, you can internally respond: “I see you, I know you’re scared and you’re trying to protect me.” But now, let’s have the critic sit to the side for a minute while we examine what’s going on with clear, unemotional eyes.
You are comparing yourself to people you don’t know.
You don’t know how long they’ve been making art.
You don’t know how long they spent on the work.
You don’t know how long they practiced that technique.
Most likely, what you’re seeing is not that person’s first or twentieth attempt – what you’re seeing is the result of regular practice and engagement.
And frequently what I see with students is this: because they are afraid to fail, they give themselves 5 or 10 minutes, try the technique once, and then think, “See? I knew I couldn’t do it.”
So let’s think about a pretend scenario for a minute. As the newer artist, we will call you Artist #2. Artist #1 is someone who has done hundreds of hours of practice.
Let’s pretend that when you sit down to create, you and Artist #1 both sit at the same table. So in the year 2000, Artist #1 sat down for the first time, and started spending, on average, 2 hours per week making art. As of today in 2021, she has spent 2,188 hours practicing art.
Then, in August, 2019, you sat down for the first time next to her, spending on average 30 minutes per week . At this point, you’ve spent 52 hours on your art practice. Artist #1 has spent 2,136 more hours practicing than you. Let that sink in. Why do you expect your art is going to look like you’ve practiced 2,188 hours when you’ve practiced 52?
I know that sounds harsh, but I want to drive home the point.
Western culture has this myth that being an artist is about a “gift.” The myth says that yes, there’s some practice involved, but if you don’t seem to have it on the first try, you might as well give up.
That’s a load of malarkey.
Of course, there will be people who have an excellent ability to visualize and translate what they see, or traits that make them particularly well-suited to making art. But as with most pursuits – for most of us, art mastery comes through practice. That’s both the good and bad news. It’s not a lottery where you either win the gift or you don’t, you have to work to develop your art.
Your expectation that you can simply plop down for 10 minutes and create a masterpiece is unrealistic. Most of us mortals have to engage in the “w” word. There is a reason it’s called art work, but I prefer to frame it as playful practice and exploration.
The more I engage in playful art adventures, the more exciting the work becomes, the more art I make, and the more my skills and enjoyment deepen. I want to invite the same for you.
I have a free class called How to Be a More Productive Artist, and it’s purpose is to address exactly this issue – concrete strategies to help you shift limiting mindsets and creative productive habits for joyful art making. You can join here:
I’d love to hear about your experience with getting beyond comparison, and what makes you want to keep practicing art.