Stare, Share, Steal, & be willing to look Stupid – Skinny Artist

Stare, Share, Steal, & be willing to look Stupid

Stare Share Steal and 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.Share your creative work

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?

 

 

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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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(24) comments

“Be willing to look stupid”

This is the hardest advice to take! But, that doesn’t change its importance. Loved this entire post.

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    Thanks Rhonda for your kind words and I agree that being willing to look stupid is certainly the hardest part. Luckily for me I’ve had so much practice at it ;)

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Thank goodness I keep a journal to write my thoughts down, otherwise I wouldn’t get an ounce of sleep!

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    Part of my problem (and I have many) is that I now have so many little notebooks running around the house that I can’t ever remember what notebook has what in it anymore. Sadly, I now appear to need an organizational system for all of these little notebooks

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      Small and bigger Moleskine-Notebooks everywhere, I found the big one on my bedside table the best. It contains un-organised subjects and mostly it takes a whole coffee intoxicated daytime hour to read what I had written in the dark, but it is the only way, I get to know what ‘a great idea’ had come to me…..whilst everyone in the house was fast asleep. Thank you for another amazing article!

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Being willing to look stupid is the hardest part I think, but so important. It is that vulnerability that makes what we are sharing meaningful.

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    You’re absolutely right Joyelle, it’s the vulnerability that makes the work worth sharing in the first place

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Wendy Herdman

The best advice I ever got as an artist fell well in line with “don’t be afraid to look stupid”–it was to stop doing only the things that I already did well. Performing art, visual art all the way down to the mundanity of our personal lives, it’s easier (safer) to keep doing the things we al,ready do well. We cook the same dishes, wear the same clothes, give the same gifts, read the same books, paint the same paintings, and even when we choose to go a *little* outside our boundaries, we trends towards status quo. You can get ever more technically proficient doing the same thing over and over again with only very minor tweaks, but you won’t really GROW. To do that, you have to be willing to fall down, start over, leap off the path and try something utterly ridiculous. It’ll probably fail, but in the failing, you’ll find the next idea.

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    It seems like it’s that willingness to fall down that makes the difference. Obviously we won’t necessarily fall down and fail every time we try, but you’re right we don’t have the luxury of knowing in advance.

    To me at least the willingness to “look stupid” is about removing the fragile ego from the creative process as much as possible. This of course is far easier said than done because the human ego has developed a remarkable survival system. It doesn’t give up easily and always seems to be there fanning the flames of self doubt.

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great post :) the looking stupid bit… sigh……… but its part of it :)

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    Thanks Mimu for the kind words! It’s always great to hear from you my friend :)

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Tatty Molly

Yeah, awkward artist, lol! Really identify with that one, haha! :) But from awkwardness to awesome, right?

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    I think you’re right, “from awkwardness to awesome ” would make a great creative motto!

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You have to keep at it every day do something, make something. The best artists never stop, probably only a quarter of what they create is great art. It is because they are willing to fail (look stupid) and because they put in the miles (pen / brush miles) that they are great.
A very interesting article, I totally related to it. Thank you

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    Thanks Ashar and I agree with you that the best artists are the ones who just keep at it and never stop creating something. It may not be great, or even very good at times, but it’s a stepping stone to the next canvas, the next book, or the next song. It’s not about looking back and trying to judge what you’ve done, it’s about finding a way to grow into what you will become.

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Great post yet again, Drew! That sums up the best advice, right there.

The only trouble I have is the interpretation of steal. There’s something magical in the looking, taking notes, and recording, just shy of taking a photo of someone’s work, that stays with you as a germ of an idea for your own work. The transformation becomes part of the process. Maybe “steal” is just too loaded a word, and I shudder to think of it taken literally. Borrow? Infer? Just my editorial voice in my head, which I try to shush whenever I hear it! :)

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    You’re absolutely right Liz, “steal” is definitely a loaded word and one that almost all of us creative types naturally shy away from. After all, nobody wants to be accused of stealing something — “borrowing” maybe, “inspired by” sure, but not stealing. It just sounds wrong. The sad truth is that I’m just a sucker for catchy alliteration so I needed something that started with the letter “S” ;)

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Easily one of the best articles I’ve read in a very long time. I seem to have a penchant for ensuring I’m always at that “awkward stage”!

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I have just entered your website and I love it. It is inspiring :) I’m always afraid to fail and look stupid but without making mistakes we are stuck in our comfort zone and we never progress. Creativity is observing and connecting the dots (as Steve Jobs said), steeling/borrowing inspiration from others is part of it!

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SakuraoftheValley

An excellent read! I’ve always seen that quote of Picasso’s and never truly understood it until now! You explained everything so well! :)

Thank you

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Being stupid, I hate giving speach just because of the fear of being stupid. Some of my old paints are so silly, I never showed anyone too scared of, oh you know….

The other day I decided that I was going to do something silly, I went to work wearing complete opposite colored socks. That turned to be quite fun, I noticed that some people saw it but did not have the heart to tell me, others just had a blast with me.

Feeling stupid is probably the most important step of noticing things as they are, we can embrace it and have lots of new feelings with it, or reject and live locked in a box of conformity.

Thank you for your article, loved it.
Cheers all.

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    Thanks so much Shirlei for stopping by and reading them :) I really appreciate it!

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Jess

Hi there,

Thank you for this article – I’ve just come across your website and love the reassurance it has given me in just a few moments of reading.

I am a secondary and primary teacher, but have decided to begin my own small art school (with quality classes, not craft) aimed at our community without the high costs involved in tertiary education. It is becoming my passion to provide people of all sorts with quality fine arts education for hobby purposes or for more serious endeavors as exhibiting artists. I am re-igniting my own arts practice after having left it for 5 years or so as I was busy teaching.

I am passionate for teaching and I have always researched, looked to other artists/art pieces for inspiration, borrowed techniques. Recently I have been looking into Copyright laws here in Australia as my students use other artists’ works to learn from. My aim is to run an educational business (although not recognised by the government as educational) which of course requires inspiration – however, I have found myself disillusioned by the masses of laws surrounding Copyright and the egos and sensitivities (or insecurities??) of so many artists out there. My knowledge of post-modernism and appropriation doesn’t have a leg to stand on. I have always thought that we learn from others – artists don’t develop in isolation of each other, otherwise we wouldn’t have art movements/styles.

Thank you for reminding me of Picasso’s comment “bad artists copy, but great artists steal.” It has put a few things in perspective for me.

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Looking stupid is a personal achievement….and being proud to say I have a go at art and I share it with the world…

If you go through life free of mistakes you fail to invent or make any serious contribution to the world.

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