Let this be a meditation not only on how we are thinking of our work but how we are presenting it to others, how we are presenting our crafts, and what value we are adding to the people around us.
1. READ BOOKS BUT NOT JUST ART BOOKS
This is something I have done and that I see in people a lot. Reading technique books or biographies about artists, or even literature about a specific movement is a great way to learn but I have found it even more helpful to do the following: I read anything from Victorian Science Fiction, to old school pulp magazines, to Benjamin Franklin's auto biography. There is no wrong way to do this but here's the punch line is: Reading books, articles, or text outside of your realm of knowledge, craft, and thinking will rocket you into a new world of ideas and offer you perspectives you never would have had, thus enriching your artistic experience and the experience of your viewers.
2. ASK ALL OF THE QUESTIONS ALL OF THE TIME
This can push you in one of two ways that I can think of off the top of my head and it solely depends on your execution. You can either 1. Look super invasive and weird because you asked another artist super personal questions or random mundane ones, or 2. You can look very interested, attentive, and sharp because you were asking relevant, intelligent questions about another person's work. This is the best way to not only learn new techniques and explore different concepts but it will draw people in to remember you and want to talk to you more. I've said this before but people love talking about themselves and even more so, artists love talking about their work. So in short, asking the right questions to the right people at the right time will not only teach you a whole helluva a lot, but it will open doors to new opportunities, collaborations, and friendships that might not have been there before.
3. LEAVE YOUR STUDIO AND ENTER THE VOID
One big thing we all here about as artists and creators is maintaining and thriving on our social media or online presence. If you are doing this and succeeding, congratulations, but if you are only doing this and so much so that you haven't closed your laptop or slept for 36 hours straight you might want to test the water with the other type of presence that is also important for the artist: real life. I'm not one of those people that think the world is ending because of iPhones. I'm on my own devices all of the time too, but one thing I think is just as important, if not way more than a social media presence, is actually being present in your own environment. This means if you're in a band you should be at every show in your city whenever you can, and if you are an artist you should be at all of the gallery openings, all of the art markets, and all of the open studios you can get to. You don't have to be that crazy about it but I really want to stress is that it is vitally important for the creator to be out, in front of people, and ready to ask questions and listen. Your presence will grow and people will know you as long as you actually leave your studio.
4. BRING VALUE TO YOUR NETWORK
And to your audience. Think of Bob Ross. The great landscape painter of our time. He had an amazing talent, a great attitude, and painting techniques that very few people have but here's what really set him apart: He gave away his secrets. The best artists and creators I have seen and that have gained the most respect have one thing in common: They bring endless value to their audience. If you are a talented guitar player in a band you should do tutorials for your songs on youtube. If you are digital artist with a focus in animation you should write articles with photos on how to design and create characters. If you are a taxidermist that only works with equine specimens you should film a documentary on your entire process or make a video about your origin story and how you got into such an oddly specific craft. The reality is, your fanbase and your following are more than likely inspired by you as well as your art and if you were able to offer some humanity, knowledge, and insight into what makes you up and how you do what you do, it could benefit your audience and even more so, it will benefit you.
5. SELF DEPRECATION IS HELL BUT SELF EXAMINATION IS KEY
This is a huge one for me. As artists, many feel that there's a healthy amount of self deprecation necessary for creating good art but I'm not sure if this is true. Of course its good to rip on yourself sometimes or not take yourself to seriously but it comes to a point where you have to decide if you want to keep hating yourself and selling yourself short or you want to participate in your own version of frequent and honest self examination and inventory. Its pretty normal for a person to end up in a place where they feel angry, self conscious, or self worth starts to tear and fray, but if you can create a system that allows you smash the self sabotage and maintain confidence and self worth those moments will start to become fewer and far between. Something I like to think is that having a big ego is easy and runs hand in hand with hating yourself but having confidence, self awareness, gratitude, and self checking system that allows you to maintain it, is the true accomplishment.
6. ABANDON YOUR NEED FOR CONSISTENCY
Lets take an artist that has been painting landscapes and flower pot still lifes since they graduated RISD in 1989. This artist has developed a cult following that LOVES these landscapes and eats up the still lifes. They spend their mornings painting with finest Winsor & Newton tones in their Province Town beach side studio everyday. Things seem good and dandy but for the last three years all of those Pollock paintings at the MFA Boston have been catching their eye and all the boring ass landscapes they've been painting for 15 years are making them want drink acetone. Abstract expressionism that this flower pot, RISD graduate has never dreamed of making and never will because of the dire need of supply and demand and the sense of urgency to deliver the landscapes and still life paintings to their audience. They will paint still landscapes forever.. This story is a flaming crock of shit. To me, an art style by name or feeling, is not something you create. You just draw the way you draw and your following and critics put a name on it for you. Its the same thing with music. A punk band that spends every practice debating what type of punk they are going to be will never write any punk songs at all. Something someone told me is that your art style has nothing to do with its aesthetic. When you are dead and gone the historians and appraisers will line up all of your work in one big exhibition and the only thing in common any of those pieces will have is the little white paper with your name on it under all of the paintings. The only consistency in all of your pieces thats important is the fact that you made them all. Don't let imagery, aesthetic, or audience demands dictate what you create or what you want to publish. Art is a journey, an epic, and something that will bend and change the more you explore it.
Art is a journey, an epic, and something that will bend and change over time and there is no one piece of advice that will be fitting for the work of all artists. Take these ideas written above and add them to your bank of knowledge. Pass them on in conversation when you are speaking with a peer and if they helped you at all, take them and share them with your own circles. I may be in the business of making art and creating but my top priority above all else is serve others and bring value to other peoples lives. Whatever your version of that may be you need to go do it.