Who's in charge of your art? (AKA, how to believe in yourself)

I've been dabbling with a blog post about the different approaches to art making. This was triggered recently by a parent who signed up to participate with her daughter in my Kids' Art Camp.  I was excited to get a parent participant, but unfortunately she didn't realize what she was signing up for.  

My daughter's "monster" mask from our Expressive Arts Kids' Camp. 

My daughter's "monster" mask from our Expressive Arts Kids' Camp. 

Thinking that the class was going to be skill-based instruction, the idea of free and open creative exploration seemed to freak her out. And it's fine, it wasn't what she was expecting, and it wasn't what she was looking for. What troubled me was that she characterized my class as babyish, as if what I was offering had no value for older kids or adults.

This brings up a major theme in art education. What should taught? Most people, kids and adults, who study art do not go on to become professional artists. So what should they be learning?  The pendulum has swung back forth, from studying the European masters and copying decorative motifs, to design, to self expression, and aesthetics. Currently, most art educators try to find balance between all of these for a well rounded art education. In these different approaches to art education, one of the things that has varied is the authority in charge of what is valued.  In some cases the authority is external and far removed, and the approval perhaps unattainable, or at the very least fraught with tough criticism and heavy handed advice.  In other approaches, the inner voice of the artist is sought out and trusted.

Who do you think is the ultimate authority? This will drive your philosophy and sense of purpose in your artistic life, whether you are aware of the authority or not.  Being aware of your values will clear the way for more potent art and art making.

Last week I wrote about the value of stepping up your game by learning new skills.  But there is a danger to that, which is that when you are learning, you are dependent on outside guidance to tell you what to do and if you are doing it right.  You are giving another person a lot of power, power to judge. This can push you into new ways of being creative that you never could have conceived of before, which can be an exhilarating experience, one that expands your consciousness. But often there is no going back.  Once you see your previous approach as naive or limited, then you yourself become the judge. You internalize that critic. This can lead to being blocked. You must either change your approach or continue to rely on that external guide until you have mastered the new skill.

Intuitive painting teachers like Michelle Cassou and Aviva Gold have both experienced the more academic approach to painting, and abandoned it in favor of an approach that honors a more internal guide, one that does not judge, but that leads you through a creative process that results in healing.  

So who is in charge? You? Your spiritual source (God, or other names)? Your teachers and instructors?  Your potential customers who might buy your art? Your gurus?

Being clear about the purpose for your art will help you to place trust in right people. Do you want to learn how to make art very skillfully?  Do you want to be able to make art that you can sell?  Do you want to push the boundaries of contemporary understandings of art?  Do you want to explore art as a vehicle for self understanding? Do you just need an escape?   

It is tough to be mismatched with the wrong student or teacher.  For me, skill and technique have diminishing returns.  I am wowed and in awe of people who are very disciplined in their art. But it is often the skill that awes me, not the art itself.  The skill is too conspicuous. But I also need to see some skill in order for me to enjoy art. If it looks too easy or experimental, it does not hold me. I like my art fresh and risky.

My art practice is also my spiritual practice.  I am the ultimate authority on the value of my art. I do not sell it, I don't show it in galleries.  But I do show it to others, and value supportive conversations about process and content.  I think everyone should be making art, and that learning new skills and techniques improves my ability to express, improvise and play. I use my art practice to make my life better, using it to problem solve, face my issues, keep the faith in my dreams, and to experience altered states of consciousness in a healthy way. My art making heals me.  

When you are clear about why you want to be creative, then you can be clear about who to listen to, and who to allow into your creative world. You will stand strong knowing the purpose and intent behind your art, so that when you inevitably encounter those with different goals, you won't be thrown off by their criticisms. You will also be able to target a community of kindred spirits, who you can trust to push you into new ways of making art that do not conflict with your ultimate purpose. 

Here at Dive3 Studio, I make visual art, but I also write, and dance - all with the intention of making something that I like, that others like, but most importantly serves my ultimate goal of living a better life, and helping other to do the same.  I love to share my process with others in workshops. I will soon be releasing a self study online workshop called Body Love that will use expressive arts to explore our relationships with our bodies. I'm really excited about this! I will also be offering coaching for those who feel stuck getting started on their journey.