A no purpose, no goals approach to making art

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Could you let go of your expectations to get better, make progress, find a ‘distinct style’ or produce anything ‘interesting’ when making art?

In Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mindhe explains a Zen Buddhist approach “We can say either that we make progress little by little, or that we do not even expect to make progress. Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough. There is no Nirvana outside our practice.” And In our practice we have no particular purpose or goal.”

When making art, there is a strong desire to get better and gain more confidence so we feel we’re progressing through some (imaginary) process of evolution. This is what we’ve been taught from a young age – to focus on getting a higher grade so we can get our pat on the back and seal of approval from others. But what if we took a page out of Zen Buddhism and let go of the goal to get a metaphorical better grade?

“You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment… When your mind is wandering about elsewhere you have no chance to express yourself. But if you limit your activity to what you can do just now, in this moment, then you can express fully your true nature, which is the universal Buddha nature.” – Shunryu Suzuki

A goal-less approach may not please your ego, but your mind will benefit from the release of expectation you’ve put upon yourself.

“… we just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment. When you bow, you should just bow, when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat. If you do this, the universal nature is there. In Japanese we call it ichigyo-zammai, or “one-act samadhi.” Sammai is “concentration.” Ichigyo is “one practice.” – Shunryu Suzuki

By adopting a ‘concentrated-one-practice’ approach, you become fully present in the moment. Focusing on the action of practicing with no expectations about the outcome allows you to “express your true nature.” This ultimately leads to connecting to yourself on a deeper level.

How freeing to tap into an unpressured, unperfect, slow and small art-making practice where your only focus is just to make art.

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Rushing your evolution

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We can be in such a hurry to be better, faster, wiser right NOW that we don’t realise the full potential of a slow evolution process. In art-making the gap between where you are and where you want to be is even more obvious because you can compare side-by-side what you just made to an artist/designer/creator’s master work in seconds. Ira Glass explains this taste comparison; “Your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you… A lot of people never get past this phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit.”

In a word of instant gratification, entertainment constantly available at a moments notice, fast food and next day delivery, we are becoming increasingly more impatient. Can my next level of improvement arrive tomorrow please? What the artists’ work you admire so much doesn’t show, is the rich, diverse and challenging journey it took to arrive at that final piece. Their journey wasn’t straightforward or linear. It was full of failure, uncertainty and making bad art. They once stood where you’re standing and didn’t have all the skills they have now. They committed to consistent practice, showing up and making work that wasn’t perfect. It was a slow evolution of development and growth through practice, but you don’t see any evidence of that when you only look at the final work.

“You can’t rush your hatching. It’s dangerous. The results can be disastrous and take a long time to overcome. So savour the simplicity of your pre-dreams-come-true time. Love the egg you’re in. Because not too long from now – and right on time, you’ll be spreading your wings and life will never be the same again.” – Danielle LaPorte

There is no overnight success or hack to get better. It about making a LOT of stuff and then one day far from now, you realising how far you’ve come. Ira Glass encourages us that the phase of not making good enough work is “totally normal.”

“And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.” – Ira Glass

The volume of making work is key. Even a tiny 2 minutes making something every day adds up to 12 hours a year, which becomes more significant in the future (you may currently spend 2 minutes each day unlocking your phone so it’s not a big investment). If you make work every day and compare what you made on January 1st to December 31st, there will be a noticeable difference.

Make work – make a lot of bad work and don’t rush your evolution because the gold lies in your journey.