3 Ages of an Artist – Skinny Artist

3 Ages of an Artist

Inspire by Ashley Rose

Whether you are a writer, a painter, or any other type of creative artist you know that your life and your art are constantly evolving. Like any other journey this one has a beginning, a middle, and an end (so to speak) and each stage comes with its own set of rewards and potential pitfalls.

The courage to begin

At the beginning of any journey, you need to find the courage to begin.

You have to make the choice to create.  No one is going to force you to write a novel, practice your instrument, or fill up that empty canvas. It’s up to you to find the time and the motivation to create.

Becoming a better artist is not just about getting the right degree or knowing the right people, it’s about having the courage to sit down and work on something that most people aren’t going to care about it.

You may not feel like you have the time or even the skills to do what you want to accomplish–but you do it anyway because you know that it’s not as much about what you create as who you become along the way.

In order to begin, however, you have to be willing to look like a bumbling idiot along the way.

Everyone makes mistakes and feels awkward at the beginning. It’s simply part of the learning process where nobody is probably going to admire your work or pat you on the back for being awesome. Not surprisingly, this is when a lot of people give up their creative dreams. The reality no longer lives up to the fantasy. Suddenly the mystery and magic of the creative process starts to feel a lot more like work.

The ones who end up making it through this apprenticeship phase are the ones who have the passion and the desire to create even when nobody else seems to care. They are willing to look stupid because they understand that it’s a necessary part of the creative process.

Beginnings are always filled with hope but tempered with fear

The courage to continue

Some creative artists fall into the trap of believing that once they are out of the beginning stage of the process, their problems are behind them. They think once they’ve put in the time and paid their dues, the hard part is over…. If only that was true.

Once the initial excitement has worn off, however, we start to see beneath the shiny veneer of being a creative artist and realize that it’s not all just book signings and gallery openings.  We discover that there are some downsides and sacrifices to creating art as well. Like many other professions, there is often intense competition, unrealistic deadlines, critical colleagues, and unfair pay.

This is when expectations meet reality and hope transforms into to self-doubt.

We start to second guess ourselves and our past decisions. Maybe our art or our creative career hasn’t progressed as quickly as we imagined it would. Perhaps our work has been rejected one too many times and we begin to hear that little voice inside of us changing from “When I do it!”  to “Can I do it?”

We begin to wonder whether or not we actually have what it takes.

We have good days and not-so-good days and we sometimes wonder if anybody would really care if we just packed it up and went away. We find ourselves needing something to keep us going—a kind word of encouragement, a positive review, or anything that will give us the courage to keep going one more day.

The courage to begin… again

Sooner or later if we last long we enough in our creative profession, we may begin to feel as if we’ve explored every nook and cranny of our little niche and we’re now simply going through the motions.

We begin to see that mastery comes with its own price, and one day we find ourselves coasting along in the comfort of our own creative competence.

By now we’ve become good enough in our chosen art form to get the attention, the money, and pats on the back for a job well done.  We have built up our skills and our audience to the point where it becomes all too easy to coast on our reputation or our past work.

Writers, artists, and musicians often rely on their past work to pay the bills and discover that the motivation to take new risks and potentially alienate their existing audience is not worth it. We discover that we no longer have to be vulnerable because we know exactly what our audience expects from us — predictability and consistency are how we begin to live our creative lives.

With predictability, however, comes the inevitable stagnation. Instead of branching out and trying new techniques, our work becomes predictable and formulaic because we want to protect what we have already achieved. We find ourselves more interested in recycling our past work than creating something new.

We’ve forgotten why we started to create our art in the first place — that sense of curiosity and exploration. That sense of not having a clue what we’re doing and then trying to do it anyway. Sure it’s partly the ignorance of youth, but it’s also the power and energy of discovering something new — exploring some hidden crevice inside ourselves.

In order to rekindle that creative spark, we need to start over again.

This is of course much easier said than done because it forces us to leave the comfort of the familiar behind. In order to explore new worlds, we must first be willing to let the old ones go. The one advantage we have is that we’ve been through this journey before and we know that it can be done.

So we gather up our courage and begin again.

What do you think?

Which of these 3 stages are you currently at in your creative career?
Which one has been the most difficult for you to get through and why?
Do you think there is a reason not to start over and just continue to refine your art?

 

Image courtesy of Ashley Rose cc
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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.

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(16) comments

Avishai Wassermann

So true for me, I’m now in my second phase.

Reply

I set myself a challenge every New Year, something that I have difficulty mastering. This has led to my work being very diverse chronologically. I realised when making my last challenge that this is confusing to my audience as this year my challenge was something that I find exceptionally hard to achieve and I also realise I may never achieve it.

So I am wearing two hats; I am working on my challenge two boards at a time, and alongside this I am creating abstracts paintings albeit differently from last year but informed by last year’s work and challenge.

It is quite hard to wear two hats creatively as one needs a different mindset; but my challenge this year was to abstract the Somerset levels and describe my feelings for this landscape rather than depicting it. This is proving very hard to me, and possibly carrying on doing abstracts is hindering this process. However because it is so challenging to me I do need the abstracts as a distraction; as well as giving some continuity to my work.

I strongly believe as a creative I need to be constantly reinventing in order to satisfy my creativity; nevertheless I am aware this can be very confusing to the viewer. best ashar

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    I think as creative artists most of us are constantly wearing multiple hats and multi-tasking even if it’s only in our own heads. I think sometimes it’s hard to switch back and forth between the creative and the more practical mindsets like editing, evaluating, and revising. To constantly make that shift between creator and critic requires patience and more than a little courage to expand our reach.

    The same often holds true when it comes to switching styles and/or genres. As creators we often feel the need to push and explore into new areas, while our audience often prefers the comfort and familiarity of our current style. In the end, however, you’re right Ashar that we sometimes have to set aside the desires of our audience in order to satisfy the curiosities of the creator. Sometimes they will follow us along on our creative journey and sometimes they will be left behind. Either way, in order to grow we have to keep moving forward.

    Reply

The beginning was a great challenge to me; it was only after my therapist asked why art kept “leaking out of me” that I found the courage to overcome a lifetime of maternally imposed perfectionist fear and begin art making in earnest. I committed myself to writing a year long blog about Vincent Van Gogh with postings chronicling the challenges and successes of replicating or reinterpreting 52 of Vincent’s paintings in a single year (http://vincentproject.blogspot.com), an act of defiance and liberation. Since then, I have entered and placed work in several local and statewide competitions, and have re entered college, with the goal of pursuing a Masters degree in Studio Art.

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    I really love this idea of art “leaking out of you” — I think that’s a great description because sometimes no matter how we try to ignore it or bury it underneath the piles of our daily life, our urge to create doesn’t just go away. It’s always there, which is both inspiring and bit frightening.

    Thanks again Catherine for taking the time to share your thoughts with us and best of luck on your Van Gogh project!

    Reply
      Catherine Hicks

      Hi Drew,
      I just saw this. Thanks for the nice comment. Happily, the leaking continues; it has been a great summer learning about and making more art. Good luck with all you do…

      Catherine

      Reply
Carol Anderson

Thank you for introducing me to the concept of “who you become along the way,” because for me it’s been a life long battle to become at all.

I never had the formal art education I always wanted. Parents never seemed to think it was a valid option for me and steered me into “the secretarial course.’ They were very pleased when I married. Back then there were no scholarships or grant money of any kind, so you paid your own way. I did manage to spark my fire with 2 years of art school, but dropped out when money got tight. This was the end of Stage 1.

I felt my work was as good as those having 4 years, so I decided to take my portfolio on tour to ad agencies. No one wanted to even look at someone who didn’t have a degree. So, I ended up designing for trade shows and doing sand blasted signage. Later, I learned the printed page trade. This is all before computers totally transformed the industry. When the computer age arrived, I did “upgrade” my knowledge with a full year of night school, but still stayed in the graphic design industry. Years later when I retired, I swore I would never sit behind a computer again. This was the end of Stage 2.

Somewhere along the way I rationalized that I would become an artist when I retired. Like Grandma Moses, I would pick up a paint brush when all the needs of kids and family was over. I’ll be 70 in 3 months and just got my first business card printed. I have skads of photographs just waiting for me, and a ‘morgue’ full of ripped out magazine ideas. Some art has “leaked out of me” over the years, and I’ve just had them photographed. My next step is to develop a body of work to show, then get a website designed. I am evolving and as I expose myself to ever more of others work and styles, it can’t help but fire my creative juices. This is the beginning of Stage 3. Becoming is a lifelong process. Can you see my smile?

Reply

    First of all Carol, thank you for your kind words and congratulations on getting your first set of “artist” business cards printed up, even if the whole thing may have taken a little longer than you had originally hoped.

    The fact that you were initially turned away for not having the right credentials and degrees was unfortunately part of the gatekeeper system in the art world for a long time. Luckily for us thanks to the internet, millions of artists/writers/photographers are now self-publishing their work online without having to wait for anyone else’s permission or approval.

    Now of course all of our work may not turn out to be grand and glorious, but it will always be ours. It will both be a signpost of our development and a declaration of our commitment to our art. So now is finally your time to loosen the creative spigot and give us everything you have offer the world!

    Thanks again Carol for stopping by and taking the time to share your creative journey and yes, we can see your smile from here :) Enjoy!

    Reply

Thanks for this amazing article Drew. I am definitely at the beginning stage. Reading your article made me see that I am always hitting the same wall that stops me because I don’t want to make a mistake of looking like “a bumbling idiot”. I did forget that making mistakes and feeling awkward was part of the beginning process. I guess I wanted to be the confident expert up front before I spoke to any potential clients.
Thanks to you writing this piece and me taking the time to read it, it’s o.k. to claim that: I am a beginner in the sales conversations and that’s o.k.

Reply

    You’re right Sari, unfortunately it’s far too easy to forget that everyone was once a bumbling beginner. We often only see the success stories and a creative artists’ best work online and forget that at one time they too had to learn those same skills and go through that same awkward learning process that we all have to endure.

    If you get the chance, I would suggest reading through some biographies of the people you admire in your field and, if they are at all honest, you will often discover that these individuals felt lost at the beginning of their careers as well. Thanks again Sari for sharing your story with us and I wish you all the best!

    Reply

Wonderful article! Being only seventeen , I am surprise that I have already repeated this cycle for at least four times! It is hard to keep believing that you’ll make a life out of just the things you write. At the beginning, things just fall into places. It is quite a piece of cake for me to start out by simply writing the conversations that I had in my mind. Then I started to share my thoughts with my group of friends without actually realizing that I want to be a writer. Sometimes it is good to be oblivious, there’s nothing in the world to think about. Soon I started my blog and it seemed like it’s dead. Only a few people read it and at on point I gave up. I took me quite some time to pick myself up and write again without expecting anything from it. But then again I found myself digging for excuses like I’m not cut out to be a writer or that I am just waiting for inspirations to come. Who am I kidding? I am a lot like a part time writer but a full time train wreck. However no matter how many times I’ve told myself the same thing, I often just go back to the beginning. It’s amazing how I can be hopeless at one moment and hopeful in just the next second. All thanks to you, I am able to tell myself that I can do this!

Reply

    I agree with you Kathi that sometimes it’s good to be oblivious to both the criticism and our own ambitions. I think we can often do our best creative work when we are not trying to create. It’s when we begin to think of ourselves as a writer, or as an artist, that we begin to freeze up and worry about what other people are going to think of us and our work. I think the fact that you’ve been around this loop so many times at such a young age will only help you down the road. Every time we have to return to the beginning, I think it strengthens us as a creative artist. Not just from a pick-yourself-off-the-ground-and-start-over kind a way, but in a I’ve-done-this-before-and-I-can-do-it-again kind a way. If you look at this whole process from a certain perspective, I think it can be encouraging to find yourself back at square one because you are not only traveling down familiar path, but you also get to reclaim that excitement and passion of starting something new. Thanks again Kathi for sharing your story with us and I wish you all the best :)

    Reply
Christene

Love this article. I am at the very beginning. I come from a family of talented artists. But no one did anything with that gift because it had no value it was meaningless. I have come to realize in the last 2 years thru therapy that I am in complete frustrated BLISS when I am creating art. Otherwise I am sad, depressed, etc. So now I choose me and that means art. I just finished an acrylic class and so learned some wonderful lessons. I do this for me and pray that I will give to others what other artists have made me feel or dream. I want to make someone else feel something good. I also no longer have this romantic idea of the artist life. It is hard work and I look forward to a new creative way of living. A teacher told me “you need to paint, paint, paint”. So that is where I am starting and I will definitely come back to this website for advise on the next goals.

Reply

    It’s good to hear Christene that you’ve found your passion and for choosing the uncertainty of the creative life over the comfort of the familiar. Now having said that, there will still times when it’s going to be hard, things will not turn out the way that you had hoped that they would, and you’ll feel like giving up. I’ve been there and pretty much everyone I know has been there. It’s simply a part of what we do. That’s when you need to be able to remember those moments when painting brought you bliss and gave you something that you couldn’t find anywhere else in your life. Keep in touch, and I wish you all the best on your creative journey :)

    Reply

This is dead on. In the middle, yet reinventing my art, while I wait for the world to catch on to what a tremendous emotional and spiritual value my art can provide.

Reply

    Thanks so much Helena for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. You’re right in the fact that all we can really do most days is put our head down, do our work, and hope that someday (soon) the rest of the world will catch on to just how awesome we really are! Just keep moving forward and keep us updated :)

    Reply
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