For a long time I’;ve had a lot of trouble making art. I found it extremely difficult to stay motivated, focussed and confident about anything I started making.
Recently, that changed. Now I am excited to work on new drawings, paintings & other experiments and find that the biggest things getting in my way are logistic issues like time and money.
After seeing my live nightclub appearances where I’;ve made art in front of hundreds of people, I’;ve had friends ask me "Are you not worried about screwing it up? ‘;t you scared about what people think? "
Well yeah, of course I am at some level.
But I’;ve had those same feelings when I make work in private as well.
The thing is, those feelings are all in your mind- you can take them with you no matter where you are or who else is around, and they stem from your motives for making art. You can hold on to them, or you can change the way you think, even if you’;re in front of hundreds of people.
A lot of my creative friends have told me the same story about their creative lives that I’;ve experienced in mine:
Once upon a time they made art because they enjoyed it. That was the only reason they made it really. Hours flew past as they became absorbed in expressing themselves through their artwork.
Then at some point, new ideas were introduced about what it meant to be a ‘;successful artist’;. Essentially this meal selling work, gaining representation, winning prizes and getting exposure. Somewhere along the line, art became something difficult, anxiety ridden and basically no fun. My friends began to feel that making art was something they should do, rather than something they wanted to do. They made less work, and the quality of their work suffered.
If this sounds familiar, I’;d like to suggest my belief about why this is the case.
I believe it’;s about the motivation behind making art, and I think it can be boiled down to Internal vs External motivation.
To sum it up briefly, it goes like this:
Selling work, being picked up by galleries, winning prizes- these are all great rewards and great signs of success, but they are all External rewards. They are rewards that come to you from outside. Because they are external to you, they are outside your control. You can not make someone like your work. So if you set out to achieve these things, you actually have no control over your success. Your feeling of success will fluctuate with what’;s popular, you’;ll either cling to what’;s proven to work or find yourself chasing fashions. You’;ll find that making art is an anxious process because you’;re never really in control.
The opposite to that is to base your motives for making art on Internal rewards. This is where you make art that challenges you, pushes you and excites you as an artist, without consideration for other people’;s opinions. Essentially you make art for yourself, you are probably more focussed on the process rather than the outlet and you are more likely to grow and develop as an artist. This is because you’;re trying to keep things exciting for yourself, rather than please other people and get them to buy your work.
This is an extremely brief introduction to the idea but I found it is a substantially powerful change in how I make art. It does not stop me from getting nervous about how my work might be received, but it does stop that from being my main concern.
I did not come up with this idea myself either- it’;s partly based on the psychologist Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi’;s concept of flow, a state of ‘;optimal experience’; that highly motivated artists, musicians, dancers, rock climbers and many others described to him through his studies.
So anyway, if you do not enjoy art as much as you used to, maybe you should ask yourself why you’;re making it for.