“Is there something you do every day that builds an asset for you? Every single day? Something that creates another bit of intellectual property that belongs to you? Something that makes an asset you own more valuable? Something that you learn? Every single day is a lot of days. It’s easy to look at the long run and lull yourself into skipping a day now and then. But the long run is made up of short runs.” — Seth Godin
If you make some art and share it online, seeking approval from your peers or via social media can be seductive. The ding of acceptance and seeing rising numbers makes the ego/mind happy. The approval is shown in a physical, measurable way so if the numbers are high, you feel good. And higher numbers are better aren’t they??
“Fame in a world like this is worthless.” — Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 A.D
But those numbers are a distraction, empty of real meaning and approval. We chase the numbers because we believe they can evaluate our art and give us external validation – the permission to continue to make if the feedback is good. But if the numbers are small, or the feedback is not so good, does that mean you feel disheartened about your art? Do you judge your own enthusiasm, enjoyment and self-approval on the judgements of others? And if so, why does their opinion count more than your own?
Seth Godin argues “The narrative of social media grooming is a seductive one, but it’s as much of a dead end as spending an extra hour picking out which tie to wear before giving a speech.” Spending more time grooming an online image is time and energy consuming and can keep you from making the art. Creating art in secret may be a more nourishing way to tap into creativity by distancing yourself from seeking others approval or permission.
But if you do decide to share online, know that the numbers can never make you happy. They will never be big enough for your mind to be content and the joy comes from the physical act of making your art.
Is it risky to pick up a pencil and draw something? Logically it’s not. The risk of danger is minimal but your mind may have other ideas when you start to make marks. Notice the negative thoughts that pop up while you draw. Thoughts like “You’re no good at this” or “That line is wonky, throw it all away!” Greet them with curiosity and kindness and continue making marks anyway. It may be helpful to respond to the negative chatter with a friendly “Thank you for your concern but I’m doing okay and want to continue. I’m not in any danger so you don’t need to worry.”
The negative chatter, the unkind whispers of your inner critic are the mind trying to keep you safe from danger. The danger used to be lions and tigers for our caveman descendants, but today the perceived danger is failure. If you don’t try you’ll never fail so you’ll be safe, which makes sense to our 2 million year old brain wiring. But we are safe picking up a pencil and if you don’t try you’ll never know just how wonderful it can be to regularly make art.
“It’s essential that we differentiate between things that remind us of fear and those that are actually risky. In our adult world, the most valuable activities are actually inconvenient, fraught with the fear of failure and apparently in-doable.” — Seth Godin
If you dream of a day in the future where you’ll make some art, know that there’s no better time than right now to start. This very minute. You don’t need much time, you don’t need fancy materials. You can take a pen and a scrap of paper and draw something, anything immediately in just 2 minutes. Seth Godin encourages us to merely begin: “With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.”
Some day most likely means no day. Today is the best day for you to take action.
Scott Berkun in The Dance With The Possible explains how a skill gap is the distance between your current skills and the actual skills you need to bring your idea to life. “Many talented people never develop their skills because they hate the feeling of this distance. They’re embarrassed and tortured by it. They expect to improve at a pace born only from wishful thinking, and when they fail to meet it they despair. They lack the commitment required to find out, through practice, exactly how much skill they might be capable of. Instead they want an easy and guaranteed path despite the fact that none of the heroes they compare themselves against ever had one.”
Seth Godin asks if our gap is fuelling us to grow or is keeping us stranded: “There’s a gap between where you are and where you want to be. Many gaps, in fact, but imagine just one of them. That gap–is it fuel? Are you using it like a vacuum, to pull you along, to inspire you to find new methods, to dance with the fear? Or is it more like a moat, a forbidding space between you and the future?”
Austin Kleon says that success for him is “closing the gap between what your days look like and what you want your days to look like.”
Ira Glass famously talked about the disappointing gap between your taste and where you want to get skill-wise: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners… But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.” He said most people quit before narrowing that gap but “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” He stresses this process takes time and that’s normal.
This gap in your ability can only be narrowed by consistently repeated practice. If you can lower your expectations of leaping from beginner to master quickly, the feeling of disappointment about your not-so-great art won’t be as strong. Instead aim for small incremental steps of growth over a period of time and focus on the ways you have improved. The bottom line is there is no shortcut to improvement and quitting before you’ve given yourself a chance to grow is a real shame.
In an interview with the contemporary visual artist George Condo, he remarked “I don’t see why it takes so long to make drawings.” He draws a large-scale drawing with oil stick on camera and the whole process take 16 minutes. It appears to be a very quick, dynamic and instinctive method of drawing. He explains “I kind of draw like you’re walking through the forest, y’know. You don’t really know where you’re going and you just start from some point and randomly travel through the paper until you get to a place where you finally reach your destination.”
The idea of making art quickly is echoed in an question on Seth Godin’s ‘Origin Stories’ podcast episode.: “What should teachers be focusing on to help young people write their best? Godin answered “… the problem is the word ‘better’, because when they seek to do ‘better’ writing, they’re focusing on… complying, on pleasing an anonymous reader or a teacher.” Instead, “… get kids to write. Get kids to do lousy writing, Get kids to do frequent writing, emotional writing, superfluous writing, useless writing, writing, writing, writing. That if they write often, then the fear of writing has to do away.”
Do more writing, do more drawings, make art quickly and often and don’t pay attention to the quality of what you make. Down the road, a bi-product of this practice will be ‘better’ technical skills. To focus on getting ‘better’ when you’re a beginner, is a way to stall yourself before you’ve had a change to get any momentum going.
Progress doesn’t happen overnight and there is no hack to becoming an overnight success at making art. Practice, consistency and commitment are the slow and steady route to growth. But that’s if you can stand it taking time to bridge the gap of where you are and where you want to be.
Practice making something every single day and you will improve over time. Seth Godin says “incremental daily progress (negative or positive) is what actually causes transformation. A figurative drip, drip, drip. Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track—this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes.” The idea that any progress, even if you hate what you’ve made, will create future improvement is something to remind yourself of when you feel like giving up.
“Keep showing up. If it matters, keep showing up.” – Seth Godin
30 day or 100 day projects allow you a consistency framework to keep you accountable: Make something every day for X days and you can only stop once you’ve reached the final day. The great thing about this approach is a pile of work is created by taking a small creative action daily.
By focusing on the small, we let ourselves off the hook of only looking for big leaps in our progress. We don’t expect plants to instantly sprout from a planted seed, it takes time just to grow the roots. See your own daily project as an way to grow your invisible creative roots and focus solely instead on the enjoyment you get from making something.