Are you spending more time looking at other people’s art than making your own?
Do you feel you haven’t found your unique creative voice?
Maybe it’s time to go on an art diet!
In this digtially connected world, we have unlimited art-viewing possibilities at the tips of our fingertips. But is spending so much time on Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr and YouTube really doing us any good creatively? Is it helping us grow as artists?
When we get stuck with our creative work, instead of looking inside ourselves for the solutions to our creative dilemmas, it’s tempting to go online and look for the answers there.
Instead of finding answers, however, more often than not we emerge three hours later with a head full of other people’s ideas and a sense of overwhelm. How can our work possibly live up to all that wonderful art out there? Why even bother?
If you recognise any of these symptoms, it’s time to get much more intentional about your art consumption.
Here’s 3 ways you can make your art diet healthy and nutritious instead of toxic and debilitating!
1. Consume the Best Creative Nutrients
You already know that what you eat really affects your well-being. Too many carbs or too much caffeine or alcohol and you’ll start feeling sluggish. Likewise, what we consume art-wise has a huge impact on how we feel as creative beings. Take in too much junk and your creative output will slow down or maybe even stop.
Of course I’m not suggesting you never look at anyone else’s art again. Only that, when you need inspiration, you look for it in the highest quality source you can find. In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharpe calls this ‘Scratching with the Masters’.
Scratching with the Masters fills your well rather than depletes it. That’s why it’s ‘great’ art and not just art.
It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend looking at tutorials on YouTube, it won’t come near what you’ll learn spending 15 minutes in the presence of a truly great painting on a wall in front of you.
Make an appointment with yourself to get to see ONE really outstanding exhibition, even if that means travelling to do it.
Yes, it will probably cost you money - if not in entrance fees then in travel expenses - but you’ll be repaid multi-fold by learning and inspiration.
2. Employ Active Looking Techniques
When we look at art for inspiration, we need to make sure that we are actually getting what we’re seeking by engaging with the art, not just passively consuming it.
To make your art diet healthier, make yours an ‘active looking’. Ask yourself questions about the art in front of you. Journal the answers.
Ask yourself things like:
What is it I like about this work? (Texture, colour, subject matter, use of light etc.)
What quality in this work would I like to see in my own?
Be specific, don’t say “I wish my work was that good.” Instead identify particular qualities you could improve in your own work.
I’d like to be able to handle light the way this painter does.
I’d like my photographs to have an air of mystery like the work of so and so.
Homing in on specific qualities will result in you being able to devise a plan of action such as taking a course you see advertised on ‘Working with light in acrylics’ or experimenting with different post-process filters on your photographs to add more mystery.
Suddenly you switch your consumption of art from something passive and unhealthy that’s mostly about wishing your work could be different without making any effort, to actively experimenting with something new in your own work to help it grow.
3. Watch Documentaries to Deepen Your Art Understanding
Watching a good art documentary is a fabulous way to make your consumption of art more engaged and learning-orientated.
Documentaries take you on a guided journey that deepen your understanding of technique, cultural and historical context and even the motivations of the artist.
Make a weekly or monthly date with a good documentary series - there are plenty on YouTube and Netflix
The artist or movement or historical period you choose holds clues to your own creative fascinations. Dig a little deeper by journalling about some of the ideas the documentary throws up in relation to your own work.
For example, if like me you’re drawn to art made at the beginning of the 20th century, you might ask yourself:
What is it that fascinates me about this period?
What similarities do I see between myself and the artists working at the beginning of the 20th century?
What did those artist do that I don’t but might help my work if I did?
Engage Your Analytical Brain
With these 3 steps, instead of passively and indescriminately consuming vast quantities of visual input, you start engaging your critical brain and being more discerning about what, how much and in what way you allow other people’s art into your life.
In turn, this will lead to a greater understanding of your needs and motivations as an artist. As a result, your art life will be both deeper and healthier.
Read the next post
to find out whether you need to take drastic action and go on a complete art fast!