euphorbia 4, photograph
“If you only photograph when you feel like it… you’ll never be totally successful as a photographer.”
– Freeman Patterson
Many of us view artmaking as something we do purely for fun, so it’s hard to understand why we would practice our art when we don’t want to. That seems like a contradiction. And we’ve all felt at one time or another like making art is the last thing we want to do.
But I agree with Patterson, to improve as an artist you must be committed enough to your work to practice it even when you aren’t in the mood. It will cause you to take your art more seriously. You’ll be forced to find your creative muse under a wider range of circumstances and mental and emotional states, which will allow you to access a deeper well of inspiration.
We’ve all heard artists say that it is important to show up each day in the studio for work. I don’t take this literally because I can’t (I have a full time job, after all) but rather for me it means that I am committed to take as many opportunities as I can to make art regardless of whether I am in the mood. I have a limited amount of time left in my life to make art and I can’t afford to limit myself to only those times when I feel like doing so if I want to grow.
This doesn’t mean that making art becomes a chore or, worse, a punishment. There are times when I choose not to practice art, when I need a break or just want to indulge in some other activity. But I’m careful to not decide against practicing art solely based on whether or not I feel like it at the moment. Such a habit would gradually cause my artistic muscles to grow slack.
“It is good to be humbled by seeing someone’s work that is both very accomplished and very different than our own. Who knows, it may open a door creatively for you.”
– Brooks Jensen
How much time do you spend looking at work that is “very different” than your own? I think this is an important question. I suspect many of us would have to answer, ‘not much’. Why is this?
It is so easy to surround ourselves with artists whose work is similar to our own and there are many reasons for this. We may be trying to develop a style or technique similar to theirs. We understand their work and it feels familiar to us. We know where to go to see it. Our friends share our appreciation of the work. The list goes on. Behind all of these reasons is a desire to feel comfortable. It’s reassuring to see other artists, especially good ones, going down the same path that we see ourselves on.
But inevitably we encounter dry spells, periods where our creative juices have deserted us. We need to prime the creative pump again. Everyone has strategies to get themselves on track again, excited about what they’re doing. One strategy that works for me is to look at all sorts of art, and particularly the work of photographers who do really different things than I do. I may not “like” their work, I may not be motivated to try what they do myself. But sometimes these angular departures from the path are what we need to kick start our imaginations. Occasionally you will get an idea that you can incorporate into your own work and sometimes you might even be motivated to actually spend a little time on this new path you’ve encountered. These little temporary excursions down artistic branch roads can be invigorating.
In fact, I enjoy this activity so much, I recommend that you don’t limit it to times you feel you need inspiration or a jump start. After all, we all would benefit from this all the time. Make it a frequent practice to seek out work that is different than what you think your interests are limited to.