One of the best things I’ve read this week was art critic Jerry Saltz’s “How to Be an Artist” (New York Magazine, Nov. 26, 2018). In 33 rules, he describes and explains how to deal with life as a creative person, and how to become a better, more confident artist. I nodded my head at almost every single point, but here are the quotes and ideas I actually enjoyed to most:
1: Don’t be Embarrassed. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good.
I’ve been studying and working in the creative field for about 10 years now and still feel it, and Jerry’s list doesn’t sound like this feeling of embarrassment and insecurity will go away. So I guess I better learn to deal with it.
Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work. (…) Every artist and writer I know claims to work in their sleep. I do all the time. (…) How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it? It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work. Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.
This last sentence stuck with me. I am going to paint it on the wall of my living room, maybe even on the insides of my eyelids. It’s not necessarily meant in a workaholic way, but in a way to remember myself that creative work can always a safe haven, too.
Lesson 6: Start With a Pencil. (…) Next, draw the square foot in front of you. This can be tight, loose, abstract, realistic. It’s a way to see how you see objects, textures, surfaces, shapes, light, dark, atmosphere, and patterns. It tells you what you missed seeing.
I just enjoyed this little exercise and can recommend it to everyone. Drawing helps you see things.
Forget Being a Genius and Develop Some Skills.
Lesson 9: “Embed thought in material.” — Roberta Smith. (…) An object should express ideas; art should contain emotions. And these ideas and feelings should be easy to understand — complex or not.
Exercise: An Archaeology. Make an index, family tree, chart, or diagram of your interests. All of them, everything: visual, physical, spiritual, sexual. Leisure time, hobbies, foods, buildings, airports, everything. Every book, movie, website, etc. The totality of this self-exposure may be daunting, scary. But your voice is here. This will become a resource and record to return to and add to for the rest of your life.
This reminded me a lot on the Starterpack meme I made a couple of months ago, which was so much fun and taught me a lot about myself. It also made me accept myself more.
Lesson 14: Compare Cats and Dogs. Okay, this sounds ridiculous, but call your dog and it comes right over to you, placing its head in your lap, slobbering, wagging its tail: a miraculous direct communication with another species. Now call your cat. It might look up, twitch a bit, perhaps go over to the couch, rub against it, circle once, and lie down again. What am I saying? In seeing how the cat reacted, you are seeing something very close to how artists communicate.
This quote is a much needed argument for cat people, like me.
The best definition of success is time — the time to do your work.
When I was working in an agency full-time, I enjoyed the work I did, but it often didn’t feel like creative work—as it was never work that included myself as an artist. It was client work. After I couple of years I noticed that this doesn’t make me happy. Today I still sometimes feel guilty about it; something in my head tells me that anything but a full-time job is just lazy. Turns out: Creativity is a full-time job by itself.
Envy looks at others but blinds you.
I guess the only way to prevent my eyes from getting worse is to change my view on fellow designers and artists. Not that I am full of envy, but I noticed looking at other people’s work too much prevents me from believing in my own stuff.
After beating yourself up for half an hour or so, stop and say out loud, “Yeah, but I’m a fucking genius.”
Because you are! Amen.