[This article was originally printed in Kultivate magazine. I’m reprinting some of my older articles on my blog to consolidate them in one place.]
Do you want to be an artist but don’t feel you have the talent?
That’s not unusual.
You might tell yourself you have to be able to draw or paint. You might tell yourself you have to be talented, born gifted, or you need to go to art school. You can’t chisel the Pieta from a block of marble or paint the Mona Lisa. How could you possibly call yourself an artist?
That’s your human nature talking, creating artificial barriers, false walls, walls so high and imposing why bother trying to climb them. There’s no higher wall than the fear of failure is there?
Well, get out the ice axe and crampons, because it’s time to scale that illusory fear-of-failure wall.
No, you don’t have to be a brilliant painter or a skilled sculptor to be an artist. You don’t have to be “gifted,” whatever that means. An artist has to create, make something new, but the way you create is up to you.
Do you think you’re not creative?
You’re probably more creative than you realize. In fact, daily life is full of activities that, while mundane, require you to be creative. Writing a report for school or work is creative. Taking a snapshot of your friends is creative. Cooking a meal is creative. Every one of these activities requires you to create something new, something no one has ever seen before. These activities might not rise to the level of “high art” but they are still creative.
Everyone is creative. And everyone is an artist.
To create something artistic, you simply need an idea, a different way of looking at the world, or something to say.
You have ideas, every single human has ideas. You have a different way of looking at the world simply by virtue of the fact that you’re a unique person – no one else is you. And is there anyone birthed from a woman who doesn’t have something to say?
Let the world hear you, see your ideas, your singular way of looking at life. You just need to choose your medium, your way of expressing yourself. You don’t need to draw or paint or understand photography. You just need a way to create your art.
Your choice of medium is up to you. Whether it is stone or charcoal or PhotoShop or Blender or Second Life prims or the dirt in your yard, you can create from anything. Work in what feels comfortable, what works for you. How you create and what you create is up to you.
Sol Lewitt, a minimalist and conceptualist, often had others create his work. He provided the idea, the instructions for making his work, but let others build “his” works of art. Dan Flavin made minimalist sculptures from fluorescent light tubes, sometimes nothing more than a single tube on a wall. But Flavin’s work explores light and darkness, and demonstrates the beauty found in even the simplest of objects. Barbara Kruger creates collages of typography and images from mass media, but her work addresses and highlights important cultural issues. Andy Warhol took images from mass media, copied them, and made silk screens out of them, barely changing them in many cases.
The list goes on and on. There are almost endless examples in contemporary art of brilliant artists creating important work that doesn’t use paint or pencil or stone to create their art, or even a high degree of artistic ability.
The idea is important. What you have to say is important. Your ability to draw or paint or mold clay – while helpful – is not so important.
Art can be easy to create. Pick a medium, whatever you can use, and make your art. Will it be great art? You’re not the best judge of that. That’s a judgment best left to history.
It’s human nature to come up with reasons why you can’t do something, why there’s no point in trying. Don’t do that. You’re an artist. You might have something important to share with the world, perhaps something revolutionary, but if you don’t scale your personal fear-of-failure wall, the world will never see your art.
And that’s a real pity.