Updated: Aug 3
When I was 9 years old, there was a girl that was a big meanie to me.
Her name was Lisa.
Lisa and I shared an art class. She would always steal my colour pencils. I vividly remember one day trying to colour in a grassy hill, but Lisa had stolen my green pencil, so I used blue and yellow pencils and overlapped that for the grass. Lisa said I wasn't a real artist for doing that.
Fuck you Lisa I'll draw grass however I motherfuckn want.
... was probably not what I said because I was 9, but you know, this is a dramatisation.
I guess that sparked a lifelong quest, pensively staring into many horizons, figuring out what a real artist is, and whether or not I'd ever be one.
I didn't consider myself an artist for years.
This is because I held this notion that calling yourself an artist is the highest form of hubris. Just how utterly conceited do you have to be to call yourself an artist? What the everloving heck does a lowly artist contribute to society?
I now realise that this thinking is false humility. It is the tempting apple of mediocrity we all feel compelled to bite. In reality, it is an existential imperative of upmost importance that we must become artists in all areas of our lives.
Let me ask you this:
Do you consider yourself an artist?
Do you want to create wonderful works of art? Do you want to have other people connect with your art? Do you want to sell your art?
How do you start believing you're an artist, when every goddamn fiber in your being tells you otherwise?
Simple. Just trick your brain into believing you're an artist.
Here are 7 easy ways to do it. (#5 will shock you, doctors hate this one weird trick, etc)
1. IDENTIFY AS AN ARTIST EVEN BEFORE YOU START MAKING ART.
What the heck, kari? Isn't that putting the the cart before the horse? The butter before the bread? The shoes on before the socks? The shitty metaphors before the explanation?
Yes, it is. But this is an important law of human psychology. People have the wrong thinking about cause-and-effect. People think that you're an artist because you make art. No, you make art because you're an artist. (Similarly about human psychology, you're not happy because you're successful. You're successful if you're happy. But that's another blog post altogether.)
But kari, you say, I don't get the distinction?? The distinction is this: Your self-identity and self-concept primes the entirety of your behaviour. It is the foundation from which all things grow. If you don't identify as an artist, you will never be one. We automatically and subconsciously behave under assumptions we hold about our own identity. It's no wonder the imposter syndrome affects those with low self-concept.
The first thing to do is to NEVER call yourself an "aspiring artist". To do so would be to banish yourself in some purgatory state of creation. If you have that epithet in your bio, delete it immediately.
So, here's the fun part - here's how you trick yourself into being an artist. Take out a notebook. Write down "I, [insert name here], am a creative artist" 15 times every day. While writing, imagine yourself creating art of your choosing, whether it be writing, sculpting, or painting lil warhammer figurines. Hold in your mind the image of you creating, and in your heart the feeling of joy and wonder of the process of creation.
Here you are marrying two things: intention and emotion. You need to emotionalise intentions if you want to reify a reality in your psychology. If it's sounding woo-woo to you right about now, that's fine. It might feel cheesy at first but I promise, if you do this for 6 months or more, your entire life will change.
"But kari," you say. "I am a (wo)man of science. I don't want to hear this spiritual mumbo-jumbo. I want to know understand the neurological mechanisms behind this." Ok. You are making your intentions to be an artist salient in your mind. Since your reality is just the aperture of your attention, if you choose where you focus you can choose your reality. When you think of yourself as an artist, certain networks in your brain fire, and the more you activate these networks the more they are more likely to be fired in the future (this is a process called myelination which is explained more in my other post Why Seeing A Psychologist Might Not Be For You).
2. OBSESSIVELY PRACTICE.
Artistotle once said, "You are what you repeatedly do". Well yeah. You're a freaken artist now. Your notebook of cheesy daily affirmations confirms this. So make some art.
You have to practise not for the joy of having finished art pieces, but for the joy of making art itself. You must learn to love the process, not the product.
And there is so much to love! The loveliest thing about art is that you have the creative freedom to create whatever you want!
The more you practise, the more you will consider yourself an artist. And the more you consider yourself an artist, the more you will practise. It becomes an incredible feedback loop.
3. TREAT EVERY PAINTING AS A FAILURE TO BE LEARNED FROM.
You cannot trick yourself into being an artist, without constantly improving as an artist. Your next artwork should always be better than the last.
You must treat every painting as a failure to be learned from. In each finished painting, identify something you don't like about it, and simply rectify that mistake in the next painting. Maybe the composition wasn't how you wanted it. The next painting will be better. Maybe the colours didn't feel right. The next painting will be better. Maybe the idea wasn't executed how you wanted. The next painting will be better.
Over time, you will naturally select the best parts of your art and destroy the weakest links. This is how evolution via natural selection works. This is how all growth works.
4. STEAL FROM OTHER ARTISTS.
Steal from your favourite artists! Inspiration is just a euphemism for thievery! What I mean by this is: take elements from different artworks you admire. Say, you love the way Lucien Freud paints skin. Try and incorporate that in your art. You love the way Matisse imparts a sense of rhythm in his paintings. Try to incorporate that in your art. You love the way Francis Bacon strikes terror into your soul. Incorporate that into your art.
You've heard of the saying: "Good artists copy. Great artists steal."
The thing is, you will never replicate your favourite artists perfectly. And you shouldn't. But there's a reason why your soul is drawn to certain art so don't feel afraid to mimic it.
When you steal in this way, your artwork will then become a soup of different elements. Once you synergise all these different elements into one single cohesive artwork, you will create a whole new wonderful artwork that is totally unique. Creation is in the synergy.
The more you practise, the more you will develop your own unique style.
5. MAKE AUTHENTIC ART.
This might sound a little trite, but it's super important. You need to make art that is genuine. Genuine? What do I mean by that? I mean you need to make art that expresses a fundamental part of your soul, rather than making that that is instrumental to something else.
You'll know whether your artwork is authentic when:
* it feels right
* it is autobiographical in some way
* other people connect to it.
I can't explain it in completely rational ways, but personally I've found that you will definitely know when you've created an authentic artwork - it will interact with the zeitgeist around you in an amazing way...
6. DON'T BE AFRAID TO SHOW YOUR ART TO THE WORLD.
Look, if you want to keep your art to yourself, then keep it to yourself. You're a free agent - do whatever you want in life. But I've known artists that seem to have this inner conflict - they desperately want to show their art to the world, but they are too shy, so they justify it by pretending it is somehow more moral to hide their art. Meanwhile, they're miserable because of it.
The truth is we live in a society (lol) and the meaning we impart on those around us is important. Art is such a pure expression of the heart and to have other people connect to it is a transcendent experience.
7. DEVELOP HIGH STANDARDS FOR YOURSELF AND IGNORE OTHERS
You need to develop a solid criteria for judging your own art. Do not subject yourself to the whims and judgements of others blindly - you'll never be able to please anyone.
Instead, really think about what you want your artwork to be. What colours feel right to you? What do you intend to express to the world?
If you hold true to your own standards, you won't care if someone criticises your grass-colouring in technique. ;)