My first formal art class was my freshman year of college, and I had no intention of getting a degree in it until, one day, I did. What I never dreamed was that I would use that degree for anything other than personal satisfaction, a side hustle, or just a hobby. I had amazing professors, and for them I am forever indebted. It’s likely my own thoughts, fears, and misunderstanding about artists prevented me from really hearing all of what they said. Regardless, here’s my list of what I wish it didn’t take me a decade to figure out. After reading it, I’d love it if you’d let me know what would make your list of things you’d wish they’d taught you in school about your profession.
My ten things
1. This is something you might actually do for a living one day. And here’s a whole host of people doing it for a good living that aren’t famous and don’t have shows at museums. Here’s what they are doing. (I would have loved to see what this looked like in 2000).
2. Nothing is original. We don’t create art in a vacuum, and maybe we couldn’t since art feels very much like a response to something. We all build upon the discoveries and accomplishments of others. Here’s the paradox: finding your unique voice usually involves trying on (and shedding, and expanding) those of others. Don’t get so caught up in being original that you never develop the skills and ideas that allow you to find your unique contributions. Originality comes. You don’t have to force it.
3. Consistency trumps raw talent. Showing up despite motivation and inspiration is more important than being the best at the start.
4. No one needs your art or has any particular reason to care about it (except maybe your grandmother). Making it anyway requires a unique level of self-motivation and being self-motivated takes practice. Figure out what tools, subjects, processes, and rituals excite you, and draw more satisfaction from them than you do validation from others.
5. Ward off inevitable loneliness by finding or creating a group of other artists. Art is (mostly) made in solitude and even introverts need community for edification, collaboration, and reassurance.
6. People who will like (and collect) your art are out there and finding them requires actual work. The artists for whom it appears to have come swiftly and easily are the exceptions that prove the rule, but we tend to think of them as the standard. We tend to think we have to work so hard at marketing because our work isn’t any good, and if we were only better we wouldn’t have to find an audience, they would just appear. That is false 99% of the time.
7. Progress isn’t linear. Some days are magical and others feel like you’ve regressed. You’re normal.
8. The sooner you come to terms with imperfection, the sooner you will be free enough to create something worth anything. To seek perfection is to dismiss the creative process entirely which is built on wrong turns, happy accidents, tangents, dead ends, and paint on all your clothes.
9. Keep a sketchbook and a journal. Write, informally or not, about your work, your inspiration, your worries, your hopes. Make lists of pieces you want to create and ideas you want to explore. Writing it down gives it weight. Looking back at both your old work and what you were thinking about it can get you unstuck or inspired. It might also provide a good laugh.
10. It’s just art and not a physical object that represents your entire personhood nor your human worth. Relax.
Written by Denise Hopkins
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