Anyone who creates something for a living (or for fun) understands how maddening the process can be. It’s hard enough to consistently form fresh ideas and maintain confidence as you work to execute them. On top of that, everyone and their mother has an opinion about creativity and creatives.
When trying to embrace a part of yourself, it can be easy to get tripped up on what other people think. Creativity is no exception. In fact, I can’t think of anything about myself that I have to fight harder to protect from outside influence than my art and my writing. But anything that makes you happy is worth fighting for, so to help you wade through the crap, here are some “facts” I’ve had to unlearn in order to fully embrace creativity.
Lie #1: You’ll never “make it” as an artist (and it’s foolish to try)
Anyone who has ever admitted that they are (or want to be) a writer, a painter, a photographer, an actor, a singer, a sculptor, a drummer, a cake decorator, a jewelry designer or a tattoo artist has heard at least one of the following:
“Are you sure?”
“How will you make money?”
“That’s a tough industry.”
“What will you do for work?”
“I hear that’s pretty competitive.”
“But what’s your actual job?”
It's easy to fear what you don’t know. People who don’t make efforts to learn about a subject tend to project their feelings and fears onto others. And for such an occasionally unstable profession as art, it can be easy for artists to soak up others’ projections.
But keep in mind that many people haven’t experienced being a writer or a singer or a tattoo artist, so most of what they know about artists comes from movies and books.
The idea of the “starving artist” needs to die. Most artists aren’t holed up in a room in Brooklyn, sitting on the floor because they sold their couch to pay for paint. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that type of commitment — it just isn’t very sustainable.)
Artists aren’t irresponsible, and art isn’t an irresponsible life choice. In fact, most artists I know — poets, singers, photographers, even bloggers — have “real” jobs. Which means they work twice as hard because they devote nearly as much time, energy, and effort to their art as they do to their day jobs.
The truth is, life as an artist is uncertain. It’s constant work. You rarely get to a point where you no longer have to brainstorm, create, or worry. It is competitive, and it’s difficult to get to a point of financial stability.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying — actually, forget that word, trying. You don’t try to make art. You just do. If you take photos, you’re a photographer. If you write, you’re a writer. If you make films, you’re a filmmaker — you get the idea.
If you make something, then boom. Congrats. You’re already an artist, day job be damned.
Lie #2: Inspiration is fickle… and it’s everything
You’re walking down the street one day, when suddenly you stop in your tracks. Your eyes widen and your heart begins to race — the perfect idea has just hit you, like a sunbeam breaking through the clouds. There it is! The one you’ve been waiting for. I’ve got it, you shout, attracting odd looks from those around you as you race to get home and capture that idea on your laptop/easel/iPhone recording app.
That kind of inspiration is fickle. In fact, it’s as rare as a diamond and happens to most artists maybe a few times in their lives, unless they’re really, really lucky.
I used to believe that if I woke up and didn’t feel inspired, that meant that, not only was I off the hook for writing that day, but that I shouldn’t write. If no ideas came busting down the doors of my mind, then it wasn’t meant to be. Oh well. Guess I can spend the day watching Netflix instead.
After a few years of only writing while “inspired”, I had about ten pages to show for it. The ideas were haphazard, wrangled from my brain, and wrestled down onto paper. The train always left just as quickly as it came. When my burst of inspiration faded, in its place was the belief that I just “couldn’t think anymore,” and therefore, “couldn’t write anymore.” So I didn’t, and most of the time, the story ended there.
But do you know what’s more important than inspiration as an artist?
All that waiting could’ve been spent sitting at my desk, writing whatever thoughts came to me, outlining, looking up synonyms for that one word I couldn’t quite get right. In the end, I was procrastinating.
The best artists practiced. They had schedules. They had routines. Even if they were extreme — like Haruki Murakami, who would start writing at 4 am and keep it up for 6 hours — they committed.
Of course, This doesn’t mean artists must overexert themselves; it’s important to take breaks or stop for the day when you feel energy running low, or you could burn out. But there’s no point in stalling.
So turn off that part of your brain that says you aren’t inspired and just go create something. Because guess what usually happens when you sit down and start to work? The inspiration arrives, knocking meekly at the backdoor of your mind like a kind neighbor stopping by with fresh-baked muffins.
Lie #3: True art comes from pain and ruin
We have countless artists to thank for this idea, some of them being 70's rockstars and the writers of the lost generation. Legends like Amy Winehouse and Ernest Hemingway are just as famous for their art as for the chaotic, self-destructive lives they led.
I won’t deny that art can be a wonderful way to express pain. Or mental health struggles. Or physical health struggles (I’m looking at you, Frida Kahlo). Or even substance abuse. One of my favorite songs in the world was written by Florence Welsh during a terrible hangover (she later got sober, and her music is just as amazing).
Sometimes, too, a terrible situation or a tragedy can make for incredible art. Look at Picasso’s Guernica, or Anne Frank’s diary. If art is the thing that gets you through hard times, more power to you. In fact, if everyone expressed their pain and fucked-up-ness through art instead of, well, pretty much anything else, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.
Still, I used to wonder why, in my darker times, I couldn’t produce a thing. When I feel down, the last thing I want to do is put myself out there artistically. I am more judgmental and frustrated with my writing when I am tired, hungry, hungover, anxious, or simply in a bad mood.
Sure, I’ve had my drunk bursts of 2 am inspiration, leaning against a dirty wall in a bar bathroom, frantically tapping my thoughts into my notes app and misspelling half the words.
But I have found that the times in my life when I am at my healthiest and happiest have been the most creatively productive.
At first, this caused me a bit of panic, as I fell into the school of thought that only sad art is worthy art. But eventually, I had to accept the fact that I can get a lot more done sitting out on my balcony in the sun after a good night’s sleep.
The point is, you don’t have to be miserable to make great art. You don’t have to be lonely, angry, drunk, or anxious either. If you are any of those things, and you wanna make some art about it, go for it. That’s probably the best thing you could do for yourself.
But if you‘re just fine, or even happy, you can still create. Others will still relate to your creations. And whatever you make will still be beautiful and authentic and true.