If you’re working on things that scare the shit out of you, at least you know you’re doing something creative.
Many years ago I taught myself how to design and program websites and apps.
I’ve been fortunate enough to create a decent career off of the things I taught myself. Yet, a lot of what I make today can easily be criticized by more accomplished designers or developers.
My designs always feel sporadic, following no clear form or evident theme. My programming is often sloppy and it takes many rounds of edits to get things to where I want them to be.
But you know what? The things I make work well and look good pretty damn good too (according to reviewers, clients, and peers). My work may not be perfect, but it gets the job done.
Most importantly, because I’m self-taught, all of my work is more original and stands-out than that of other, traditional designers or developers.
Because I self-taught myself the processes I use to make the work, I tend to do things a little differently than what others expect. It’s often more creative.
All creative work deserves this approach.
Whatever your craft is – be it dancing, painting, design, writing, architecture, whatever – it’s more important to be original and creative than it is to be perfect and right. Always, for any creative work, this is true.
The world can’t teach us how to be original. Instead, institutions and mentors can only teach us how things have always been done in the past.
Of course there is value in knowing what’s come before; in knowing what the great artists, poets, and explorers throughout history have tried, and failed at.
What’s more important now isn’t learning how everyone else does the work. What’s more important is to forget what you’ve been taught.
It’s more important for us as creatives to be original, to find our own way of designing, or writing, or dancing, or playing an instrument. To bringing our own sense of style and understanding into the world where repetition and copying of techniques as well as styles is overabundant.
I’m not devaluing the importance of schooling or mentorship here. An education is absolutely, without-a-doubt important.
But consider the fact that what you learn in a school or through a mentor isn’t going to help you be more creative. You may learn what mistakes to avoid and how to use the necessary tools, but you won’t learn originality. That only comes from your own experimentation, your own exploration of ideas and techniques.
Creativity isn’t about being right or ideal. It’s not about learning what’s come before for the sake of repeating it or doing the work the same way.
Phil McKinney summarizes this notion well in his book Beyond the Obvious. McKinney writes:
As adults, we use our education and past experiences to solve the problems we face rather than relying on questions. It’s these historical assumptions of what works that prevents [us] from generating new ideas.
Creativity is about being original. The best way to be entirely original is to figure out the path you want to go on for yourself and then run like hell.
The first is when you’re not starting the work you should be doing. Maybe it’s as simple as writing a report, maybe it’s a bit more complex; like writing a trilogy of novels. Whatever it is, you’re procrastinating on starting.
The second situation is that you’ve started the work, you’re making a bit of progress, but then you feel stuck. You stop writing, or painting, or constructing, or moving. It feels like there’s an invisible force preventing you from progressing.
There’s a creative solution to exploring both situations and getting things moving again, I’ve learned.
It simply starts by asking: “How does this make me feel?”
I know, feelings can be silly things. But there’s a lot of power behind asking ourselves this question whenever we feel stuck or as though we can’t start. Now, whenever I’m stuck on a project, I stop myself and ask how I’m feeling about the work.
Afraid? Fear is a good sign in the skin of a wolf. It makes moving forward seem difficult and often impossible. But fear is a reminder that what we’re doing is new, it’s something we haven’t done before. If we’re to grow creatively (or personally, or professionally) then fear is a signpost that we’re on a good path. Maybe we’ll fail, maybe the project will be shit, but we’ll learn something new. Fear is good. Let it fuel you instead of stop you in your tracks.
Excited? Excitement can lead to procrastination as well, though often as a placebo for fear. We’re excited at the prospects, of what this work could lead to. With that excitement comes worry and fear. With so much on the line (a new job, more exposure, more acclaim) we stop in our tracks. What if we fall short? What if we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment? Like fear, let the excitement fuel you rather than hinder you.
Uncertain? Maybe we aren’t exactly sure what to do next. We feel uncertain of what the right thing to do is. If you feel uncertain than the best possible thing to do next is anything. Make a mark. If it’s the wrong move, at least you’ll have better indication for what the right could be. It’s better to be uncertain and trying things than it is to be uncertain and sitting idly, hoping that something or someone will force you to make a move. Remind yourself of what it is you’re ultimately trying to do, then make an effort to move in that direction. Right or wrong, the only way to get to the destination is to move.
Often we end up feeling stuck or unmotivated because of some – often illogical – sense of being.
To break the block, to get back to creating, step back from the work for a moment and ask yourself how you feel about it. Explore from there, then get back to creating.
Ideas are worthless until you get them out of your head to see what they can do.
There’s something about art that entices the brain, even for those who don’t consider themselves to be fans of art.
For example, if you go to a museum, you’re bound to find yourself looking at a work of art and immediately asking questions about it. What does it imply? How was it created? When was it created? What was the purpose of the artist in creating it?
I imagine it’s a very similar reaction for the artist. They too have to ask questions, about what medium to use, what colors or melodies.
Now research has indicated that exposure to art makes us smart.
11,000 students from various schools participated in the study, with half of them being part of a test group that was selected entirely at random. The students attended a free tour of the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas, and were later given a series of assessment tests.
“Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.”
Exposure to the art reportedly caused students to not only think about the artwork itself, but to also consider how the artwork was created, when it was created and under what historical context. The experience notably elevated students ability to think critically.
Why is this so?
“We can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition.”
Art forces us think critically, increasing our tolerances, considering the history of ourselves and all mankind, and helps us develop our own unique taste for the arts themselves.
The flip side of the coin – for the creators, not the observers, of art – is equally weighted. Creating art forces you to think. It’s not enough to simply place a brush against a canvas or pull a bow across the strings of a violin. You must answer a thousand questions in your heart and mind before you make a single stroke or strike a single chord.
Art can make us smart.
But only if we invest the time to observe it and – for the creative group – make it. So go consume more art today and make some too. You’ll be better off for it.