“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut
1. Go see. Go do. But mostly, just go. And don’t think too much about it. You know those invitations from friends and family to events and activities that sound completely crazy and unappealing and not at all what you’d choose yourself? Just do it. Do it with an open mind and open eyes. Inspiration often comes in surprising forms, and usually not on your living room sofa. Usually. So get out and live. Now would be good.
2. Let yourself be drawn to that which you love. And don’t think too much about it. I have a very dear friend with whom I frequent all sorts of artsy-fartsy-edgy kinds of events. He’s a dude who rocks a very masculine vibe, but at a recent art show we went to, he kept going up to touch and admire all the textile art. The felted bags and hats, the intricately embroidered wall hangings–he loved it all. Our culture might suggest (or shout, even) that men aren’t the ones to work with textiles and fabric and thread, but I say who the hell cares? If you love it, do it.
3. Provoke. “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Hell yes. I remember being a young adult, somewhere in my twenties, seeing Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, “Guernica” for the very first time. It is a black and white depiction of war, full of stark, powerful, painful images. Not at all comforting or pretty. I remember being drawn into it’s depths, taking it all in and wanting to weep. I knew then and there that I had to have that painting in my home. I’ve had a beautifully framed reproduction of “Guernica” in my family room for years now. Life is messy and wonderful and hard and heartbreaking and complex. Let your art reflect the complexity of this life we have. And don’t apologize for it when others push back in response. Because they will. Listen to their feedback and allow them their reaction and remember that they are entitled to their interpretation as much as you are entitled to your expression. Commit to being provocative and let go of your overwhelming need to be liked.
4. Tell your truth. Oh hell, that sounds like such a yoga thing to say, but I have to say it. Your experience is your experience, so whether you share it through writing or music or sculpture or dance, let your truth shine through. Telling your truth can and will be upsetting to some, such as family members or friends who might have a different take on things. That’s okay. Be strong and know that even though others will disagree, telling what is true for you is a huge part of being a powerful artist. It’s a huge part of being a powerful human being.
5. Be authentic. Again, another potential yoga-speak pitfall. But I really mean it. So, here’s the thing: I went to see a lovely singer-songwriter perform not long ago. She is a local girl done good, having found lots of success in the mainstream music scene. It was her last performance on her (long) tour, in her hometown, with a sold-out crowd of adoring fans. And at what should have been an extraordinary homecoming performance, she phoned it in. Seriously. I felt as though she was regurgitating every “you guys are amazing!” and every anecdotal story from each and every previous show on her tour. There was nothing unique, or special or in-the-moment real about her performance. I left the show feeling flat. Nothing. It sucked. I’ve been to enough performances of musicians who present themselves stark and nekkid onstage, with infectious energy and a true connection with their audience to know just how magnificent that feels when it happens. It’s almost as if you are being sucked into their crazy-energy-vortex. Be that. Learn to know how to tell when you’re just going through the motions for motions sake and then stop. Just stop. Share yourself. Your wonderful, flawed, messed-up, convoluted self. And watch what happens.
6. Forget about the money. Let’s face it. The term “starving artist” is ubiquitous for a reason. It’s bloody hard to make a living as a writer, a painter, a musician, a dancer. But beware of tailoring your art to the masses. Beware of thinking “I’m going to write about what people want to hear” or any derivation thereof. That is the kiss of death as an artist, in my opinion. Write about you and your life and how it made you feel. Paint that canvas with big, messy feels pouring out all over it. Sing the song that pisses off your mother but makes your voice crack with emotion every stinkin’ time. The minute an artist begins creating with the intention of being “successful” is the minute his work looks/sounds/reads as contrived. And it cheats your audience out of connecting with you.
7. Know who your (real) friends are. And then spend time with them. Your real friends are those people who make time to see you. They don’t tell you what you want to hear, but they do tell you the truth–kindly. Compassionately. Learn the difference between the people who just want to suck your energy for themselves and those you walk away from feeling nourished. And then do the same for them. Your true friends love you because of your quirks and flaws and idiosyncrasies, not in spite of them. Treasure those people. Bring them brownies. I mean it.
8. Take time to be still. Every day if possible. Five minutes will do. Sit with your breath. Don’t freak out when this seems impossible, just do it.
9. Observe. Watch. Listen. Repeat. My textile-loving-masculine-art-and-music-partner-in-crime doesn’t necessarily consider himself an artist, but I think otherwise. He’s always commenting about what he’s noticed in the people around him. Not in a judgmental, “I-can’t-believe-she-wore-that” sort of way, but in a matter-of-fact, objective manner. Almost as though he weaves and constructs stories around what he sees and hears. That’s what artists do. We watch. We listen. We process. And then we express. Do that. Bring a notebook if necessary.
10. Make mistakes. This isn’t news. Almost every writing/artist inspiration book will tell you this. Write poorly. Paint badly. Screw the hell up. And then stick a cork in the pie-hole of your inner critic. Know that doing things poorly is an integral step on the way to doing things well. So don’t try to skip over it because you’ll just have to go back and do it anyway. You don’t have to share all your crappy art, but you know what? It’s okay if you do. Be flawed, be messy, be yourself. Some of my most favorite recent books I’ve read are written in a way that would make any English professor scream. Not proper in any way, shape or form. But they are real.
11. Show up. Simple. Not easy. Show up in your life, with your friends, in your relationships, in your world, with yourself, in your art. Just show the hell up.