CS Sherin, April 25, 2019; updated 12-08-2019
I walk the line between environmentalist and artist, fact-checker and mystic, activist and present moment being. I walk the line between critical thinking and faith in things that are unseen. And, the importance of realizing the miraculous within the ordinary and mundane is not lost on me.
With so much to navigate with mindfulness and discipline, I was fortunate to have an amazing art mentor at university who walked those same kind of lines, and who walked with me for a time. He took me under his wing, and helped me to mature as an artist and spiritual-seeking being. The most important things I learned from creating art at university remain relevant and core to my passion to this day. These are my ten biggest lessons about being an artist, which I have whittled down to this summarized little list:
- Art requires ongoing content. To create we must have: an ongoing impulse and need to create, ideas and perspective, and dedication to return again and again to blank objects (paper/clay/canvas/found object/etc.) and the various stages in between started and finished. If we don’t have these qualities, we will not be able to be an artist.
- Make big mistakes, not a lot of little ones. When a mistake is made in a work of art, that mistake must ultimately be embraced as a part of the process and piece. However, we need to dedicate enough energy and focus to doing our best and maintaining an awareness for most possible issues. This is to prevent a work riddled with so many little mistakes that compromise the purpose and effectiveness of the piece. Lots of little mistakes are much harder to track, fix or redeem. A big mistake is much easier to learn from and integrate into a process. A big mistake most often leads to better and more joyful ways to create and work in the long-term. Embrace the big mistakes: work with them and grow from them.
- Stick with the piece you are working on. When we draw or paint, for example, we may end up erasing or changing a lot of what was originally intended. Mistakes, layers, and reworked parts are not reasons to abandon a piece. Keep them. The work and layers may not ultimately be visible, yet keeping them creates a palpable energetic history that lives in the piece, as a work of art. It is also a conservation of materials. Instead of abandoning a “messy” piece for a fresh start, value the process and keep the layers as a living history, whenever possible.
- Distance, perspective, and time apart are all important. All the stages involved in creating, honing, and resolving a piece can leave us enmeshed…too close to the work to maintain useful objectivity and purpose. If the piece is not resolving and we begin to dislike what we see, it can become absolutely essential to know when to: get up and stand across the room to look at the piece from a distance off and on, turn it upside down and/or sideways to work with it from those angles, and to put it away and take some time away from it — in order to come back a day, week, month, or a year later — to see it with fresh eyes that are more able to appreciate it, know what it needs, or…that it is done, and it is great.
- Pay attention to both positive and negative space. It is not enough for us to observe, notice and draw the object or being in front of us. We must see what isn’t there, energy, and the empty space around that object and being as well. Until we recognize negative space and how it rests and moves around objects and beings, something will be missing from our work. This practice facilitates a more disciplined and objective process for still life drawings and paintings. It is also important to move back and forth and up and down throughout the process, rather than focusing on one small area at a time.
- Seek balance in completing tasks and challenges. We may give ourselves a challenge, and work so hard on accomplishing it, that what should be easy and straightforward becomes neglected — of poor quality or effort. Spread the effort and quality to every layer and task. Even if one part is daunting, don’t let it take importance away from the rest of the work. Hold every part of the work as valid and important.
- Art is necessary. An artist doesn’t create art in order to sell it. Earning money for art is payment for the result and quality. This is not the motivation for the act and practice of art. Artists create art because they must create art. The artists I most respect are the ones who go about their lives, always creating, with or without opportunities for public attention and sales. Selling and displaying art in galleries is not the point of creating. For us, art is necessary — an innate part of self and being — that takes many forms. Art is also necessary for the non-artist: it is therapeutic, enriching, informative, healing, supportive, challenging, and elicits various emotions and new thoughts.
- Be honest and kind. When we praise someone for the art they have created, it needs to be because it genuinely impacts us. Being nice is not the same as being kind or honest. We don’t need nice. We need vision, feedback, and perspective. We cannot grow as artists if we are not able to give and receive constructive criticism. Just make sure the constructive criticism is kind and honest. There is no reason to be brutally honest. We don’t need meanness either. Almost any true statement can be said with compassion. When we don’t know enough about art and creating, or the specific genre and medium, then we need to include that in our feedback. Honesty, real feedback, and kindness are all important.
- Set out to make something ugly. We need to challenge ourselves to put intense feelings and energy into making art that is ugly. Not only does this release us from crippling patterns of perfectionism, it also releases us from the restrictions of expectation and conformity. In addition, sometimes in seeking to create something truly ugly, we instead create something intriguing and new. Some of our most beautiful work may be inadvertently created by channeling the energy of anger or grief. While aesthetics, symmetry, and pleasing creations can and do have importance, it can be more important to leave all that at the door, in order to allow our emotions and raw energy to create without restriction. This can lead to hidden doorways of creation: new approaches and techniques.
- Consider context and need. This is a broad topic, but I will summarize three main aspects. One, there is always context, meaning, and need to be found as model and inspiration in Nature — no matter what medium or genre we work in. Two, we need to consider how our materials, use, and waste affect our health, collective health, and Nature — and adjust what we are doing, as much as we are able. There may be no ideal solutions, but some choices are better than others. Three, consider saturation level for the topic and genre. Do we really need to create another version of something that has been made over and over for decades or centuries? We must ask ourselves: do I have something different, unique, valuable to say? Is this practice? Is this something bigger? What is the intention? Is there a need for it?
See my Retrospective Art Series here.
This article is dedicated in loving memory of Peter Fletcher.
CS Sherin, Wild Clover | WildClover.org 2019©