Let’s Dance

from my cartoon series, FLUB

from my cartoon series, FLUB

[This is a response to my dear friend who believes he will someday be worthy to call himself “artist.”]:

There is a trap that every artist must negotiate: the mistaken notion that “artist” is something you achieve. “Artist” is something that you are (and every child is an artist, wouldn’t you agree?). Art is an exploration of life. Some of the greatest artists in history had no training and no experience. They, like you, enjoy playing with various colors and never followed a textbook or a guideline because art doesn’t happen in textbooks and the only guideline that ultimately matters is in the heart of each individual artist. Art is an exploration. It is a relationship with the mystery.  It is not a prescription. There isn’t A WAY to do it. There is your way. And my way.

Art is an engagement with something intangible and if it is life giving to you, that is all that matters. It gives you life and you bring it to life and that dance of giving and bringing life is the work of the artist. The viewer will never see what you see because they do not have your eyes or your life experience or your heart. They will see what they see and interpret it according to their life-filters. Some people will love your work, some will hate it, most will be indifferent – and that has nothing to do with you. You can’t (nor should you) determine what they see. A painting or photograph is like a doorway: the viewer can step through or not. They can choose to engage or not to engage and you have no power over what they  do or see or feel or think. And, it is vital that you understand that because the notion that you can control what they think is the very thing that leads you to believe that you must pass some credibility test to be deemed and artist. When a viewer engages with a work of art they cease to be a viewer and themselves become an artist. Engagement with art is never passive; it is creative. They enter their own dance of creation. They become creators. Yours is to offer the doorway, not to push people through it.

In truth, the shadow side for the artist in trying to control what other people think is that they give away the essential thing: what they think. Why assign to other people the responsibility for your identity as “artist.” If they like your work then you are an artist? If they hate your work then you are not? You can either serve your heart (art) or please other people but you cannot do both.

I’ve coached a legion of people who set up great studio space for themselves and then never go into it. People are great at creating separation from what they want. They can get close to it (set up the studio) but fear stepping into it (picking up the paint brush) because the act of making art is the act of releasing control. It is to offer without condition. It can be a scary thing to give voice to what you see. It is vulnerable to show your heart to the world. It is only scary until you own it and get out of the trap of valuing other people’s point of view over your own.

Another form of separation is to say, “I will be an artist when I sell my work.” Selling your work does not make you an artist. Making art is what makes you an artist. Acceptance does not make you an artist. Making art is what makes you an artist. 10,000 hours in the studio will make you better and better (meaning freer and freer to express) but it will not make you an artist. You are an artist in the first hour and an artist in the 10,000th hour because you are exploring your relationship with life. You might have better mastery of the tools in the 10,000th hour but “master of tool” and “artist” are two distinctly different things. The  artist uses the tool, the tool does not define the artist.

You have the courage to go to your studio and get lost in an exploration of life through image and color. You lose all sense of time because your relationship with the mystery is pure. And, in the end of the day, who cares if anyone sees you as an “artist;” who cares if you see yourself as an “artist.” All that matters is that you enter that sacred studio place and open yourself to the mystery and say, “Let’s dance.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

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5 Responses

  1. Whether it is painting, dancing, writing, cooking, or any other endeavor we undertake in life. It is art. It is self-expression through our interaction with the world around us. Your analogies and prose definitely pulled me in through that doorway, a room I am certainly glad that I chose to enter. In today’s social media-centric world, we have too many forums that advocate pleading for acceptance. Like, follows, comments, shares. These are all great, and I would be lying if I said the I didn’t appreciate the recognition and acceptance of fellow artists who decide to walk into my room. But, in the end, our creations are for ourselves. They are there to help us express who we are. For others, maybe. For ourselves, absolutely. And I often find that my most interested consumer of my art is a future rendition of my current self. Wonderful post, thanks for sharing 😉

  2. Many years ago a dear friend and I were discussing how administrators often think success is being liked. He said something that has guided my growth as a person ever since. “What you think of me is nine of my business.” Seems to fit your theme in today’s blog.



    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Beautiful. Perfect. Exactly what I need today, thank you David. Who was it who said, ‘It’s none of your business what you paint.’? (nice flowing from the last comment) I’m ready to go get lost… in the world of sound.

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