5 Reasons Art is Work

This is what I know: Sometimes making art is hard.

love making art. It’s something I’ve done my whole life. It gives me deep joy and fills me like nothing else can. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s who I am.But making art has its moments. Moments of frustration – of throw my hands up in the air feeling inadequate and disappointed. Moments – days even – when I struggle to get something right, and I just can’t seem to do it.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re working in realism, abstraction, or somewhere in between – the work still needs to feel right – to be right. And that can be challenging. You might want art to be play, but sometimes what you get is work. It’s part of the process. Inescapable.

When you make art you constantly challenge yourself. If you did the same piece over and over again, you’d really get it down, but it would get rote. And that’s not creative. Being creative means trying new things all the time – and every piece supplies us with its own unique challenges. It’s part of what makes art feel like work. And part of what makes art worth coming back to day after day.

We come and we go III. Acrylic on canvas, matchsticks.

We come and we go III. Acrylic on canvas, matchsticks.

Here are 5 reasons art is work – and a few tips to ease your way.

5 Reasons Art is Work:

1. Much of art making is problem solving. You get started on, say, a clay sculpture. All is going well and you’re all bouncy and gleeful. On a roll. Suddenly, though, you notice an issue. Maybe something isn’t scaled right – hard to say exactly what – but you know it’s wrong, or maybe the clay isn’t supporting itself – it’s slumping. How will you shore it up? By then, you’re in it, and it becomes about figuring out the problem and trying to fix it. That’s just the way it goes. It does happen that a piece gets made from start to finish and it’s just a joy, but oftentimes it’s more complicated than that – questions need to be asked and adjustments need to be made before you can continue along your merry way. Here are a couple of ways to figure out what the problem is, and maybe even how to solve it:

~ Step away – just back up. Making art is a constant backing up and coming forward – no matter whether you’re painting or working in sculpture. You need distance to see your work. It’s absolutely critical.

~ Leave – yep, leave the studio. Sometimes you need time away from your work to see it fresh. Go do the laundry. Have lunch. Come back afterwards and see it with fresh eyes.

~ Put a puppy in it. I didn’t think this one up – and actually haven’t tried it yet, but Norman Rockwell said, “If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.” Worth a try.

Pup drawing by Maureen McRaith

Pup drawing by Maureen McRaith

2. Art points out your weaknesses. When you’re working – especially in a new medium – it can be painfully obvious that you’re not proficient. You can see in your mind’s eye what it is you want, but you just can’t seem to achieve it. Welcome to art making.

~ Just remember, becoming proficient takes time – just like when you’re learning how to play the piano or how to ride a bike. It’s part of the game – you need to learn in order to grow. Which brings us to number 3…

3. It takes practice. Anytime you’re trying something new, it takes practice. I’m amazed at how quickly some people give up on some aspect of making art – whether it’s drawing from life or mixing paint colors – because it doesn’t come easily enough. I wonder: why do people see art so differently from everything else in life? You didn’t expect to know the multiplication tables after looking at them just once, did you? No, you have to practice. It’s the same with art making. It doesn’t necessarily come easily. You have to work at it – like most things of value. Making art isn’t for sissies.4. It takes discipline. First of all, you have to show up. To make good art you have to be in the studio (or wherever you make your art). Paraphrasing Picasso – “I don’t know what inspiration is but I sure hope I’m in the studio when it comes.” Getting yourself into the studio, or having a regular art practice isn’t always easy. I hear it takes around 66 days to form a habit.

Try this:
~ Make your art time sacrosanct. Don’t answer the phone or text. In fact leave the phone in some other room.

~ Be gentle with yourself as you find the times and ways to keep your practice going. As long as you keep working, the rest will come. Making art is a practice, not a destination.

5. You need to be open. The best art is wonderfully expressive. To access that self-expression you have to be open to what’s going on emotionally within yourself and others.

Try this:

~ Keep a sketchbook for both art and writing. Writing helps you be in touch with your quiet inner voice, which you can’t always hear in the din of our time. By being in touch with your inner self and your emotions, you can more easily access it in your work.

Whether your emotion is expressed in color or words or line – its truth will come through in your work, and it will be more satisfying to yourself and those you choose to share it with.

Watercolor and ink - sketchbook

Watercolor and ink – sketchbook

So yes, making art is work, but, to me, it’s the very best kind of work – deep, honest, challenging, soulful and beautiful. I hope it feels that way to you too.

Do you see art as work? What challenges you? I’d love to hear.

As always, if you’d like me to talk about anything in particular, post it in the comments or shoot me an email.

To all you are,
Lauren

All art/photos copyright Lauren Rader unless otherwise specified. All rights apply.

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