I got bored, this morning, so I thought I would look into the literature on how to be an interesting person, briefly. Why not, right? A little googling revealed that there is a lot of information available on how to be interesting, but not very much of it is in complete agreement with the other information available on how to be interesting. That’s interesting.
My interest was in working out what makes an artist and their work compelling to other people. While I absolutely do not advocate bending your art solely to please other people, because that makes boring art, I was interested in knowing why people might find something you did or made an interesting artwork. I was also intrigued to know why people elevate some artists to the status of somebody they want to know more (or everything) about, whereas we’re indifferent to the personality and life of other artists. What makes those differences? There’s something paradoxical and peculiar going on here, I suspect.
Exploring ideas, places and opinions seems to matter, if you go by the literature. If you are an artist that sticks to the same place, the same world view and never has a new idea, I can see that you might become dull, that way. Is the opposite necessarily true? If you explore new ideas, opinions and places, do you automatically become interesting, or just one of those people that bangs on about when they were in India, showing boring pictures about their travels? Nobody likes a sanctimonious, condescending traveller that is only too keen to bang on about the places they’ve been, the mind bending ideas they’ve encountered and how right-on they were to go exploring. Clearly, this is an arguably necessary, but not sufficient condition for being an interesting artist.
They say that to be interesting, you should share what you learned in your explorations. I refer the reader to the paragraph above. It’s all in the presentation. People might want to live your adventures vicariously, but shoving your tremendous self-knowledge and mind-expanding experiences down the throats of those not fortunate enough to share in the experience at first hand can make an artist a distinct turn off, I think. “My artistic journey is better than your artistic journey” is a very shallow and tedious game.
Being a doer, rather than an observer (a.k.a. innocent bystander) can make you a more interesting artist, if for no other reason than by doing, you are making and so there is art in existence to remark upon. Ideas are hard to share. Tangible, observable things are better. It’s ironic, though, that in being the doer, you force others into being your observers. They become less interesting so that you may become more interesting. That seems unbalanced. Surely being interesting can’t be at the expense of making your appreciators less interesting. Don’t you have to be interested in what they’re doing too?
Embrace your unique blend of weirdness and peculiarity. We’re all different, even those that think they’re the same. Underneath all the pretence is a human being with a unique set of passions, causes and purpose. Be comfortable with that. The difference between you, your art and everybody else and their art is what makes you worthy of note. It goes without saying that having a cause implies that you give a damn about your cause and are willing to act in order to further your cause. Otherwise, it’s just empty words, isn’t it?
Contain that ego and your own arrogance. When your arrogance and ego becomes the thing that dominates your skill and expertise, or even the appearance of same, you’re on the way to being one of those bores that bangs on about himself and what you know and what you learned, the time you were in India. I think we already touched on this earlier.
Apart from being a doer, you should be an experimenter. Be willing to try new things. Give it a shot. See what happens. Exploring is all about discovering new things about yourself, your technique, your materials, your process and your artistic expression. Playing outside your comfort zone, even if it’s doing something unorthodox or even downright weird, is fundamentally interesting, both to yourself and to others. It seems like to be interesting, you need to be interested. Your life becomes theatre for others to be entertained by, if you spend your time blowing stuff up, making spectacular mistakes in your art, occasionally succeeding, seeking and finding serendipitous opportunities and being a bit of a lovable buffoon of an artist, until you become a certified genius (the line between being very thin).
Don’t do what all the cool kids are doing. Jump off the bandwagon and do something else. A friend of mine said it best when she said something like we are all so busy absorbing other art and culture, categorising the things we like and batting the dross away, that we lose that ability to sit in silence and draw the music or art we are seeking from within our pure imagination. We don’t make self-made, from the soul creations as much as we make mash ups. Nobody can truly create in a vacuum, of course, but sometimes you have to start by imagining what you want to see or hear, then create it. I think this is just another way of being a leader, rather than follower. Be the messiah, rather than the devotee. We seem to be more interested in a Jesus figure, in preference to a disciple.
If you’re going to go your own way, follow your own path and have your own ideas and opinions, they’re going to be attacked by the masses of conformists, hell bent on keeping everything exactly how it always was, so you’re going to have to be brave and courageous to be an interesting artist. You will need to put it out there, with heart and take the brickbats. Don’t forget that all those critics are not actually doing anything new or interesting. Their opinions don’t count. Ignore the derision and opposition.
Being educated helps you to be an interesting artist. If you are an ignoramus, that has a very limited appeal. It might be an interesting novelty, except that there seems to be a lot of it about. Knowing new things or even knowing uncommon or forgotten things gives you the opportunity to let that information shape your art work, or else gives you a story to share with other people. I’ve always found that knowing things is by far preferable to needing to know things and not knowing them.
Cultivating the “witty raconteur” within you helps; because it lets you take your accumulated wisdom, knowledge and experiences and present them in an entertaining, engaging, funny and amusing way. People like that. It’s interesting to hear somebody share a wry joke about a deep truth. This is especially true if it relates to your art or your life as an artist. Nothing beats a good yarn. Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s only art, after all.
If you act bored or distracted around people that might be interested in you and what you are doing, that has the effect of making you less interesting. While you need to focus on your art and the making of that art, you also need to be interested in those interested in you and what you are doing, otherwise what’s the point? There is a balance to be struck here. Clearly, you can’t be so fascinated by admirers that you get nothing done, but you also cannot be so focused on the work, to the exclusion of paying any attention to those that might be interested in what you’re doing. Artists walk this tightrope daily. How many bands, for example, get so burnt out from touring, that they’re unable to make the next album worth of songs? On the other hand, how many musicians are so focused on the creation of their music that nobody ever hears about it or about them?
I find that reading outside of your field of expertise and interest or meeting people and artists that do different things entirely to what you do helps to infuse your own art with interest. The way other people go about their own particular pursuits can lend new perspectives to how you go about yours. Taking up obscure or unrelated hobbies is also a good idea. If you crochet as your art, learn to programme a computer. You’ll learn a lot about crochet, that way. If you paint, take up archery. That will teach you to see in a new way. There are thousands of examples like this.
I also find that if you hate jazz, listen to the best jazz that there is. Pretty soon you will come to appreciate jazz and learn from jazz, even if jazz is not your first choice of listening material. It will begin to add piquant flavourings to your own music. Similarly, the best country and western music has value and you are ignorant and judgemental if you overlook it, based on a prejudice. Be open to the best of the best. I find that watching anybody do anything to a very high standard is poetic and fascinating. It doesn’t matter what it is. By the same token, if you make it, make it good.
Lastly, be kind. We are all artists of one stripe or another trying to make our way along our own artistic journeys, even if we don’t acknowledge them. Never assume that you are the artist and everybody else is a plebeian consumer of art. It isn’t the case. I’m always meeting other people that have surprising artistic talents. Some make a living doing their art, others keep it a secret hobby, but I am yet to meet a person that doesn’t know or do something utterly fascinating. That deserves respect and acknowledgement. Interesting artists know how to do that.
So, there you go. That’s what my googling told me about how to be an interesting artist and how to make interesting art. Now, rip this list up and go make your own. That’s the only interesting thing to do.