If you’re like most artists (actually, most human beings), every now and then you’ll find yourself drifting, having lost sight of your goals completely. You’ll feel like you’re going through the motions, but with little satisfaction. That little self-critical voice in your head will be trying to tell you you’re no good at art. You’ll feel certain nobody wants your work and that making art is utterly purposeless. You’ll feel like giving up. The thrill is gone.
About the only thing that can help, at a juncture like this, is to actively remember what it is about making art that got you into doing it in the first place. OK, your art career might not be going the way you would have ideally liked. Nobody buys your stuff. The help, adulation and recognition you thought you would get, which you believed you had sincerely earned, haven’t materialised. They don’t recognise how great you are. You feel undervalued and underrated. But is that why you started? Was that really the feeling you liked most? If those aspects of your art-making feel bad, then what feels good?
Writing a list of what you like about making art and being an artist can help you identify what you like and, subsequently, to focus more on creating more of those moments you like, which make you feel good, worrying less about (and actually experiencing fewer of) the feelings you don’t like. It takes a certain honesty and humility to do this, but it can be a reviving tonic. Deciding to fall in love again, with making art, can be one of the most refreshing and reawakening things you can do.
Without further ado, here’s my list:
- Colours thrill me. If I did nothing else than played with colour complements and contrasts, all day long, I’d be happy with that.
- Musical timbres thrill me, especially new or unusual ones that are distinctive and memorable. The search for these is wonderful and finding one is like discovering buried treasure.
- I love a melody that makes me feel something throughout my whole body. It can be happy or sad, but it has to move me.
- I love sharing that feeling with others. Making a melody that moves people, in the same way I feel moved, is like hitting the jackpot.
- I love that the art I make decorates the existential solitude I inhabit, with beauty. If we are all, ultimately, alone in the world, then the presence of beautiful things can soften the angst.
- I love that you can share moments with others, through art. It’s like an unwritten communication. I often feel that other people have feelings, which they never could or would articulate in words, but you know they feel them all the same, because of something artistic you shared.
- Playing beautiful or interesting guitars inspires me. I won’t lie. There’s something about an instrument that brings out different melodies and approaches to playing. They change and extend my musical articulation subtly. I don’t play two different guitars the same way and I don’t really know why. Each one changes something in what I make, musically.
- I love how paint feels, as it goes onto canvas. That gooey smooshiness is really very satisfying. Feeling that delicate point where the paint breaks and texture is created is a really great balance point to sense.
- I love how writing clarifies my thoughts and makes me calm. When I don’t commit my thoughts to paper, they compete for attention, in my subconscious. Rather aggressively, actually. When I write them down, though, an orderly queue seems to form and ideas that have had their attention, in being committed to paper, stop rattling around in my head, so other thoughts can form and blossom. I can also see how those thoughts connect to each other more clearly and discern the relationships better. It’s very clarifying and soothing.
- I love it when my art resonates with somebody. There’s nothing nicer than knowing something you made has meaning to somebody else.
- I love how inspiring art can be to others. Art can cause people to decide to take action. I love it when a piece of art I made inspires others to make their art, or to break out of their passive complacency and do something great.
- I love how music comforts, soothes and understands how you’re feeling. Choosing the right music for your emotional state is incredibly comforting. It takes away feelings of alienation and lets you know that somebody, at some time, felt what you’re feeling right now. It forms a connection. We all need connectedness to thrive.
- I love how music moves my body. I can’t help it. There is some music that makes me want to move and groove. I don’t care who sees me. The feeling it too good to ignore. I succumb to it. Dancing is a reaction to the movement music induces.
- I love the feelings of accomplishment art brings me. I get a great deal of satisfaction when I finish making a piece of art and I like how it turned out. There’s a sense of psychological closure to that. Your plan has been made manifest. You imagined something and now it’s real.
- I love how art makes me joyful. Making art, especially playing music, fills me with a sense of euphoria. I love how it sounds and how the sound waves make my body feel. This is related to my earlier point about dancing. Dancing might be joy expressing itself outwardly.
- I love the beauty and grace of the tools. I have some beautiful brushes, a wide variety of beautifully made palette knives, gorgeous specialist luthiery tools, elegant musical instruments, exquisite writing materials, amazingly capable and flexible software, strange and beautiful effects boxes and so on. These are all conduits to producing art, but the quality and elegance of the tools themselves is something to behold and appreciate. I get a buzz from the tools.
- Art makes me feel alive. Making art makes me feel immortal, in a strange way. I know that what I make has the potential to outlive me.
- Art shows my imagination that it can soar. Too often, in life, we feel helpless and powerless. Creating something reminds your imagination that it is capable of thinking great thoughts and creating viable, important changes in the world.
- Creative freedom is real freedom, as a human being. The imprisoned Jews in Nazi Germany used to drive their guards crazy by singing “Our Thoughts Are Free”. They might constrain and encumber you with responsibilities and bills to pay, but your escape is always your ability to create whatever the hell you want.
- Art changes the quality of everybody’s thoughts and beliefs. Higher quality thoughts are what the world needs more than anything, right now. Art takes you there.
- I love that the ethos of art can be as antithetical to the prevailing culture of selfishness and greed as you want it to be. If you dislike the kinds of belief systems and ideologies that prevail, you can create your very own universe, within your art. It can be as different and opposite to the horrors of the real world as you dare to make it.
- I love that art can edify everything that is great about being human. People like to think of humanity as a vicious, violent vermin, fit only for self-inflicted destruction. When you make art, however, you experience compassion, empathy, generosity, unvarnished honesty and all of the loving things that are good and unique, about being a member of the species Homo sapiens. There is a lot about us that is worthy and worthwhile. Art helps you experience that.
- Loud music excites me and makes my arm hairs stand up. That visceral experience is something I have felt, profoundly, at key moments in my life and so, transports me straight back to those events and memories. That feeling was what drove me toward electric guitar and highly rhythmic music. Feeling the thud in my chest, in time with the music, is what alerted me to the fact that this is what I wanted to do.
- Quiet music calms me. Sometimes, I like to see how quietly and gently I can play and yet still articulate clear, beautiful, sustained notes. When I want to relax and unwind, quiet music, which you have to listen to intently, often does that for me.
- Playing guitar is when I feel my most confident, invincible and attractive. I feel desirable and worthwhile. I feel self-assured and capable, not doubtful and unsure of what I’m doing. It’s the closest I get to feeling sexy. Everybody should feel that they’re sexy to somebody.
- Music clarifies my thoughts, when writing. Just as writing seems to order my thoughts into something lucid and comprehensible, background music helps me to make those thoughts flow. I write best when music is playing. It cuts down the distraction and flips my brain into a more ordered state, somehow.
- Art helps me to cling to the belief in better. When the world is full of horrible people with a miserable view of humanity and diabolical plans to make everything more miserable, the fact of art and the facility to create is a powerful reminder that better is possible. It’s an antidote to the psychopaths in charge, who you know have very little ability to feel and understand art. Art is our world, from which the psychopaths are excluded, by their own inability to empathise.
- Making art allows me to trust my intuition to the fullest extent. I give free rein to my intuition, when creating. I follow my instincts without hesitation. That doesn’t happen in other spheres of life, where you act to minimise risk, with more over-thinking and circumspection. In making art, none of that matters. I just do what I do, trusting that my mind and heart will lead me in the right direction.
- I love the feeling of immersion in the task of making art, where cares fall away. The nice thing about the process of making art is that it’s a universe of your own that you imagine and inhabit and you choose what is admitted into it. Your cares and worries don’t have to follow you into that moment of flow. That’s quite liberating and relieving.
- Making art heightens my consciousness. Ideas beget better ideas. The more I make art, the better are my conceptions and imaginations for future art I will make. I feel more in the moment and present, while making art.
- Even when I don’t know what I’m doing, I feel like I know what I’m doing. I can simultaneously feel like I’ve no idea what I should be doing or how other people accomplish what I’m attempting, yet feel equally sure that whatever next step I take, it will work out fine. The risk or ridicule falls away. Whatever action I take, it’s the right action, because it is an action.
- It’s one of the few times in adult life where just playing is a legitimate activity. When I was a child, I loved to play and I still remember the feelings I had, while playing. They were delightful feelings. Making art helps me to recreate those feelings of just following my curiosity and seeing what happens.
- The imaginative, visualisation phase is as much fun as actually making the art (sometimes more fun). Creating and inhabiting a universe of my own making, which can be idealised, or else very focused on a specific thing, can give as much satisfaction as actually going on the next step of the journey, bringing it all to life as a reality. The unreality is fun to inhabit anyway. Daydreaming and musing is rewarding in and of itself, whether you make anything or not.
- Researching in preparation for making art is one of my favourite kinds of reading. I have to confess that my favourite things to read are books or information that causes new, imaginative thoughts to form in my head. If it engages me and gets me thinking, resulting in a new innovation or idea, then that’s when I enjoy reading most. I’m not so much an escapist reader as a reader that seeks imaginative stimulation.
- I always feel renewed and slightly younger, after I create something. The aches and pains and decrepitudes of getting older fall away and I feel like I did when I was a child, a teenager or a young man. Making art rejuvenates.
So, that’s my list. What do you love most about making art?