Stare, Share, Steal, & be willing to look Stupid
How can I create more art?
How do I become a better artist?
How can I get more people to see my work?
What the $#!@ is a “Skinny Artist”?
These are the kind of questions that people ask me all the time.
Unfortunately I’m stumbling around in the dark like everyone else. Occasionally I’ll bump into things along the way. Sometimes these turn out to be good things, and sometimes they’re one of those pain-in-the-ass learning experiences.
Of course I realize that’s not a very helpful answer, so I thought I’d try to come up with something else.
So now when people ask me about the best ways to find creative inspiration, I tell them they might have to…
“Stare, Share, Steal, and be Willing to Look Stupid”
Stare at the work of those who came before you.
Take the time to observe the world around you and restock your creative well. Make a point to observe the masters who came before you, absorb their work, and then find a way to make it your own.
I’m not talking about casually flipping through an art book here. I’m talking about observing a piece of art, writing, or music with a white-hot focused intensity — Taking the time to really dig into it and find out what works for you, what doesn’t work, what you like and what don’t you like about it. We’re not looking to pass judgment (good or bad) we’re just trying to see how it fits into what we do or would like to do. So we stare and take it all in.
Similar to a chef, we are collecting our ingredients. Figuring out what we like, and what we don’t like, and then finding a way to combine all of these ingredients together into something new that will feed our creative soul.
So we stare, we absorb, and then we re-imagine.
Share your creative work
What we take in, we give back. Not as a teacher to student, but as a friend to a friend.
The more you hold back, the more you try to protect your work and your ideas, the more you end up blocking your own creative flow. I understand that sometimes we’re not necessarily ready to share something with the world, but its important that we find a way to get it out of our head and into the world.
Sometimes when I’m drifting off to sleep, I’ll think of something I have to do or a new idea that I might write about. Instead of actually getting up and writing it down, however, I’ll usually just lie there and try to convince myself that I won’t forget. Of course the only thing I remember the next morning is that I had some really great idea, but everything else is gone. The sad part is that if I would simply get my lazy ass out of bed and write it down, my feeble little brain could then let it go and move on to something else. But if I try to hold on to it– I end up losing not only the idea, but usually a good deal of sleep as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you should be publishing every random thought on Facebook or Tumblr for everyone to see. What’s important is that you find a way to get it out of your brain, so something else can move in.
Writers use journals, visual and graphic artists may use sketchbooks, photographers….well they probably still use photos. It doesn’t really matter what your exact process is, what matters is that you keep your creative flow moving. Put your ideas down on paper and then let them percolate or slowly rot, it doesn’t really matter, just get them out of your head so your imagination can start dreaming up something new.
We also share our work in order to get feedback from others. Feedback is not really the same thing as criticism. To me criticism (even so-called “constructive criticism” ) implies judgment and that is not what receiving feedback is all about. At the same time, feedback shouldn’t be just a sugary ego-boosting slice of chocolate cake either — “Great job!!”
Real feedback should be a little more specific.
Sharing your work with others is a way of separating yourself from your work. Your work is not your identity or who you are as an artist, it is simply a stepping stone to where you are going. The more you share your work, the easier it becomes.
Steal some inspiration
When I say steal, of course, I’m not talking about swiping an image or copy & pasting an article and then passing it off as your own. I’m talking about reusing and re-imagining the idea itself.
Picasso once noted that “bad artists copy, but great artists steal.” To copy is to take someone else’s idea and try to duplicate it exactly. That’s called plagiarism, copyright infringement, and being a blood-sucking parasite. However to “steal” someone else’s idea, you take it, and then find a way to make it your own. You literally take ownership of it and recreate it from you own unique perspective. [viralpullquote box_position=”right” font_size=”12″ width=”207″ ]Everything’s already been said, but since nobody was listening, we have to start again. ~André Gide[/viralpullquote]
In fact, I’ll tell you right now that I borrowed the title of this post from the chapter title of a book that had absolutely nothing to do with art or being a creative artist. I just like the way that it sounded and I changed it a bit to suit our purposes here. That’s just how creativity works. You see something here, and maybe later you see something else over here, and then you mix them together and add your own secret sauce.
Be willing to look stupid
We all have to start at the beginning.
Anyone who has learned how to do anything with even a smidgen of skill, whether it’s drawing, painting, or writing — started off looking like a compete idiot. You see before we can become awesome artists, we have to first go through the stage of being awkward artists.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can skip. It’s like learning how to ride a bike. You can buy the best bike available and read book after book about how-to ride a bike, but won’t really know how to ride a bike until you get on the bike and start pedaling. And chances are when you get on the bike, you’re going to look like an idiot at least for a little while. But you do it, because you have faith that you will eventually get better.
I think most of us probably have something out there that we created back when we were first starting out, that we would like to have back. Maybe it was a gift to a sympathetic relative, or maybe it’s something that’s still floating out there somewhere online and is one accidental Google search from being discovered.
It doesn’t really matter, because in order to get to where you want to go, you have to be willing to live through that awkward phase. It’s kind of like surviving adolescence. I’m not sure how many of us look back fondly on that experience, but we had no choice if we wanted to eventually get to the slightly less awkward phase of being an adult.
Looking stupid is not just for beginners either.
Everytime you try something new, whether it’s a new technique or an entirely new medium, you are going to revert back to that clumsy awkward beginner stage at least for a little while. Every time you venture out of your circle of creative competence, you are going to stumble and make mistakes, but that’s okay — because it’s only when we are willing to stare, share, steal, and look stupid that we are able to grow as creative artists.
So what do you think?
Do you think this is good advice or is this pretty much the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?
What advice would you offer someone if they asked how they can become a better creative artist?
Do you think stealing/borrowing inspiration from someone else is wrong, or is it just the way the creative world works?
About the Author
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.