Learning to be who you are

Last week I had one of those gob smacking revelations about my art practice. Something so simple, yet it had eluded me for years. It was a sudden dawning of realisation, one that makes you feel really stupid for not seeing it clearer before now. Although I can perfectly feel the meaning of the insight and what I have to do, I have found it tricky to put into words. I don’t want this to be like one of those new years resolutions, where more time is put into talking about the idea than actually doing the work needed. However, I do feel like teasing it out here may help clarify this insight and perhaps may help others to see their own practice clearer. A number of factors combined to make possible an insight about my attitude to drawing and the kind of work I want to make.

I’ll try to explain starting from the beginning...

As the years progressed with my drawing practice, and in an effort for continual improvement, I made efforts to make my work more professional. That is to try and improve my work in ways that could make it be considered professional. I looked at other professional artists and tried to imitate (in my own way) the work they did and the tools they used. I think maybe you can see where this is going.

This mentality planted a tiny seed that eventually grew into a huge and terrible attitude. An attitude that as time went on I think this wore me down, and made me insecure and less sure of what type of work I wanted to make. I cared too much about what people thought and the attention my work was (not) getting.

A few months ago I read Simon Sinek's book 'Start with why', the basic premise is that to be successful you need to first and foremost have a clear idea of why you're doing something. I connected with this idea, it made a lot of sense to me and felt like a way forward to gain more confidence about what I was doing. The problem was, that I couldn't exactly put my finger on my why. I just wanted to draw...I wanted to draw as much as possible. If I could draw in a more professional way, then maybe I could draw for a living. Was that a good reason why I was drawing? It didn't seem like it. My next thought, was that I wanted to make quality work. Again this didn't seem like a compelling reason as to why I was drawing. Like most art questions that go un-answered, you don't give up on it, but rather I kept it in the back of my mind, with the understanding that it might take a while to get a reply. I waited.

Then last week it hit me, not in clear distinct terms or words, but more of a sense and a feeling. A feeling that I hadn't had for many years. It started with an idea of being comfortable with who I was and what I wanted to draw. To be clearer, of not trying to be something I wasn't. To stop thinking that I had to make work that looked like everyone else’s work. A feeling that I could just be my weird self and draw with my weird tools, and draw the things that I wanted to draw, and that it was ok. If what I wanted to draw and how I wanted to draw, didn't bring widespread attention or acclaim that was ok. If I never sold hundreds of books then that was ok. What mattered was that I was making work that was true to my vision, my imperfect vision, my 'not like everyone else’s vision', the vision that didn't fit with current trends, and wasn't cute or even cool. It didn't matter, as it was mine, some people might like it, others might hate it and mostly it would probably go ignored. This doesn’t completely describe the feeling or aesthetic that the insight brought, but it goes a long way to indicting some of the outlines.

This was such a freeing thought for me, that it instantly erased a lot of the worries and doubts I had been having about my art. It doesn't necessarily make art practice a breeze, any artist or writer will tell you that creativity is a constant struggle, an enjoyable one none the less. If you're making good work you should be putting in a effort to push yourself, the kind of effort that keeps you on your toes. This realisation has gone a long way to making me feel connected with my purpose again, the 'why I draw answer' I was looking for.I was expecting a clear and concrete why in terms of words, but what I got was my 'Why' in the form of a feeling.

If I had to put it into words it would be something like this:

Be the truest version of yourself that you can be. No one else can be you or think like you, and likewise you shouldn't waste time trying to draw or think like others do. What you create will be imperfect, but that is exactly what will make it yours. Efforts to make something perfect, that is without fault, will only create bland art that looks generic and equivalent to what many other people can produce. Embrace your faults, as it is there that you will find something essential about what you are, what it is that is uniquely you. In embracing your faults you create space for yourself to work, you create room for growth and experimentation. If you are overly concerned with creating things that are perfect, you will very likely not create much at all, and anything you do create will be ordinary and bland. Draw for the pure sake of drawing. Draw knowing that it can't be perfect but you can strive for something better with your effort. Know that anything you create is essentially imperfect but there's is nothing wrong with that, in fact it is equally good and bad and can be used to your advantage. Think about how imperfections perfectly display who you are and where you are coming from and going to.

Why this took me so long to figure out so completely I'm not sure. No doubt, I’ll forget it again.

Post script:
After writing this I stumbled upon this TED talk and I think it heavily correlates to the insight I had. I highly recommend watching it.


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