Welcome to your new decade.
And I’d like to kick it off by saying that we are all artists at heart. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a director, producer, writer or an actor – being the artist is where it’s at.
There are clearly some identifiable traits that are common to all successful creative people and its the basic practices and processes that allow their talents to flourish and which could help you unleash your own latent creativity.
So, lets go back to basics and breakdown the fundamentals of being an artist in this new decade so that we can plan ahead knowing what it is we’re here to do:
Artists are business minded
Artists are entrepreneurs. They are willing to stake everything for the chance to go it alone. It’s not just the finance, retail, fashion, food, real estate or any other type of industry you can think of that requires one to be an entrepreneur. Artists are the CEO’s of their own businesses. They need to have an acute sensitivity for marketing and an implicit understanding of brand. True artists are in the business of supplying products to a niche audience that crave their gifts and talents and wouldn’t normally have real function or purpose to a wider audience.
Artists are entrepreneurs who are willing to stake everything for the chance to go it along and make the work they feel compelled to create. They will beg and borrow to pay their rent, to buy the necessary materials or equipment and to feed themselves during the long months and sometimes years of endeavour.
The intellectual and emotional motivation isn’t profit, but it is an essential component. Profit buys freedom. Freedom provides time. And time, for an artists, is the most valuable of commodities.
A business outlook is essential for creative success. Even Leonardo da Vinci once observed ‘It has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.’ That is the artist’s way. To happen to things. To turn nothings into somethings.
The art world is a hustle but it’s unusual for a great artist to admit it. So, let’s go and hustle peeps!
Artists fail but still move on
Success is very often down to plan B and sometimes even C and D.
When it comes to creativity, failure is as inevitable as it is unavoidable. It is part of the very fabric of making. All artists, regardless of their discipline aim for perfection but deep down inside we know perfection is unobtainable. And therefore we have to accept that everything we do is doomed to be a failure to some degree.
The logical conclusion is that there is no such thing as failure. But there is such a thing as the feeling of failure, which is an inescapable part of any creative process. And it’s not nice. But unfortunately it is an essential component.
Many of the great artists failed at first but did they cease to write, draw, paint, act, direct, create when they felt the pangs of regret? No. They pressed on. Not because they were arrogant or insensitive but because they were totally committed to their craft.
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try exactly the same thing again. You won’t succeed, again. Instead, have a think, evaluate, correct, modify and then try again. Creativity is an interactive process.
The crucial thing is to keep going.
When you begin to accept all your previous efforts as ‘staging posts’ rather than failures you will soon arrive at a place that stands you apart from the herd. You will become a tenacious grafter like the proverbial dog with the bone that is still gnawing away long after most other artists would have given up and gone home.
For those artists pursuing a creative goal, life should be treated as a lab. Everything you do feeds into everything you do. The trick is to be able to distinguish between the elements you should keep from a previous work or experience and those you must let go.
As long as you stick at what you are doing, constantly going through the cycle of experimentation, assessment and correction, the chances are you will reach the moment when everything falls into place.
To give up before we even start, using low self esteem or lack of qualifications as an excuse is, frankly, gutless. As human beings we are all born with not only the wherewithal to be creative, but also the need. We must express ourselves. And to do this either on film or on stage is our choice.
It’s up to us to select the activity, the subject matter that appeals and inspires us most and then it’s a matter of plugging away: learning, probing, and being ready for when the unpredictable prompt occurs, precipitating the glorious discovery of finding our own, original artistic voice.
Therefore, artists don’t fail but they prevail. Artists Make. Artists Do. And so can you.
Artists are curious by nature
If necessity is the mother of invention then curiosity is the father. After all, you cannot produce something interesting if you are not interested in something. Outputs need inputs.
It is our enquiring mind and willingness to treat all experiences as potential sources of inspiration that give us the intellectual raw material with which to create. Curiosity is the immaterial tool that shapes the work of an artist just as much as any brush or chisel.
Ideas that are born out of ignorance or have been flippantly hatched are invariably weak and most often won’t succeed. But those conceived on the basis of real knowledge, inspired by a genuine passion, are more likely to have plausibility and substance. Integrity, therefore, is impregnable.
Demand more from your art, be sincere in its discovery and revelation. Take huge leaps of faith and be willing to believe that what you are putting out there is true to you and your craft.
There is no new thing under the sun and therefore artists have to disrupt and manufacture new ideas.
Ideas emerge from a specific way of thinking. Can be the combination of two random elements in a new way which would cause a disruption. Like a scientist experimenting with various methods or a chemist mixing different chemicals with the aim of discovering new formulas to improve on the old. It is problem solving at its best in which the artist requires to put on his thinking cap and that requires imagination, which is what eventually leads to that moment of inspiration.
That’s how ideas are generated. Unusual combinations, mixing old and new, stimulating original ideas. Which doesn’t necessarily mean the idea is any good or valuable. But it’s a start.
Just like technology in the last two decades has been a major disrupter, making what was once impossible possible an idea can take on a form of its own and bring to course a completely different and viable proposition to the market place.
Creativity is the presentation of pre existing elements and ideas filtered through the perceptions and feelings of an individual.
Two of the greats admit to the fallacy of originality; Isaac Newton said ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’ and Albert Einstein commented ‘Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.’
They knew that originality in a completely new form doesn’t really exist and that innovation really comes down to simply adding another link to the chain.
Anybody involved in any creative pursuit starts off by copying. It is how we learn. Children listen to music and try to play it back note perfect. It is a form of apprenticeship. You have to imitate before you can emulate.
Any artist that starts off early you’ll notice an impersonator yet to find his or her own voice.
So, start copying first but make sure to put your own signature of brand on yourself or your product before you release it out into the world.
Artists are sceptics
Creativity isn’t about what somebody else thinks; it is about what you think.
And it begins with you asking a question.
Socrates the Greek philosopher concluded that it was not healthy for society to hold opinions as facts. And so he developed a style of open ended inquiry that would stimulate the Athenian minds to perform at a greater intellectual and creative capacity what is known today as the Socratic method.
This is based on assuming nothing and questioning everything in pursuit of absolute truths. It solves problems. And problems – that is, questions in need of a solution – are at the heart of creativity because they force us to think. And it is when we think that we start to question, and to question is to imagine. And to imagine is to conceive ideas, and conceiving ideas is the basis of creativity.
But anyone can have an idea. It’s having a great idea that is difficult. They are the precious jewels that emerge only when we really put our thinking to the test and keep questioning its validity.
As the saying goes ‘The unexamined idea is not worth realising.’
Artists need to take responsibility for thinking through each and every action because creativity isn’t about what somebody else thinks; it is about what you – the creator – thinks.
And that is why the Socratic method is such a useful tool. It forces us into the all important act of critical thinking, of thinking for ourselves. It will make sure our ideas are based on solid logic and not flimsy presumptions; it can be the difference between making something worthwhile and something worthless.
But it isn’t simply just about asking questions since they have to be revealing and pertinent at that. And the answers have to be the ones that you feel come closest to solving the problem. And you can never be sure. Which is why almost any artist is prone to feeling nervous and vulnerable when presenting their work.
It is into the quagmire of ambiguity that we all must jump if we want to take advantage of our own capacity for creativity. Some of our choices will turn out to be correct, some won’t. We are not computers and there are no absolutes in creativity, just educated guesses, but at least they are our own educated guesses, which gives our work its individuality and soul.
Artists have a point of view
Your point of view is your signature. Every famous actor, director, writer or painter has their own point of view.
But let’s be clear, a point of view is not the same as a style. It is what you say, not the way you say it. And in the creativity game you are not really a player unless you have something to say.
It is not the core idea – or subject – that is important, but what an artist is inspired to say about it that is new or different.
Having something original to express is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in the creative process.
Getting stuck is something most artists face from time to time. But there are ways to work around this stuckiness.
Movement – A change of scenery or a brisk walk around the neighbourhood literally changes your point of view: the disruption activates your senses, which are stimulated by the unfamiliar; you see and experience life differently.
Exercise – Is another great way to unclog the cobwebs of your thoughts and clear a path for your imagination to flow.
Meditation – A useful practice to calm the body and allows the mind to release ideas through deep breathes and letting go.
It is the artist’s job to pay attention to prompts, to trust their feelings and instincts. Opinions is what drives us forward and it will be opinions that compels any of us to make something exceptional and different. If we want our ideas to be seen and heard it is essential we have a point of view and something to say.
Artists are brave
To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.
There is the form of courage that’s based on the principle of personal vulnerability which doesn’t put the artist in any immediate physical danger although it’s the psychological courage needed to stand up and express your feelings and ideas in public to a potentially hostile audience.
Artists expose themselves. Revealing their nakedness to the rest of the world saying ‘Look at me!’ And they do this when they are not entirely sure what they have produced is any good.
We are born with an inclination towards self-doubt, particularly when it comes to creativity. Daunting and unnatural as it may seem, boldness is required to release ideas into the world, even though it can feel alien and arrogant.
The fact is, in order to create you have to take a leap of faith; not just in yourself, but also in your fellow man or woman. You have to trust the world to judge you fairly. Yes, you will receive criticism. And yes, it will hurt. Sometimes a lot.
But this sense of rejection will likely be no more than anybody else has endured so consider it a rite of passage.
Any one of us hoping to explore new ideas must be daring. Society puts enormous pressure on us to conform. It functions when we all adhere to agreed systems. If we didn’t respect these social conventions chaos would ensue and society would collapse. But there is a hitch. The status quo is not fixed. Change is the only constant. People move, power shifts, and so opportunities arise. Societies evolve. Entrepreneurs quickly identify new business openings. And artists modify their modes of expression to reflect a new age.
It may seem counter intuitive that artists have to fight against the prevailing dogma and conservative attitudes. But the reality is they are operating in a commercial market in which the entertainment industry wants to present work they already know they can sell, distributors want to distribute product the audience will recognise, and Hollywood only wants what it knows and understands.
To break these rules and defy all these powerful parties takes enormous courage. But if you are innovative and brave it can be done – as plenty of artists have already demonstrated.
It is, after all, our imagination that makes us human. Vincent Van Gogh asked ‘What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?’ To which the answer is boring, bordering on pointless.
So, lets find the confidence to just do it or as I like to say Just Effin Do It! (JEDI style). Artists don’t seek permission to paint or write or act or sing; they JEDI.
It is by being creative in this new decade that we are likely to find contentment, purpose, and a place in our digitised age. The very act of making and creating is deeply satisfying, life-affirming and rewarding. Nothing else can make us feel as truly alive and connected to the physical world as bringing our ideas to life. It is the ultimate affirmation of our humanness.
So, let’s go out there and bring our humanity to fruition.
Here’s to 2020 and beyond rebel artists.