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Best Advice for the Struggling Artist

Updated on July 17, 2016
Struggling Artist Ponders
Struggling Artist Ponders | Source

My best advice for the struggling artist is: Open yourself. Your eyes, your mind, your heart, your hands, your experience.

The very best artists are wide open. They consume the world around them — its images, trends, fads, fashions, ironies, visions, values. Over their career, they increasingly perceive the pervasive zeitgeist: the mood of the times. Picasso and others used cubism both to display the many varied ways one might view a single reality (as opened up to them by the growth of the field of photography), and to reflect the fracturing of the political and social world being initiated by the growth of nationalism, fascism, Nazism and the Soviet regime, and by newer philosophies of modernism and existentialism. In a similar fashion, Andy Warhol reflected contemporary Western civilization’s captivation by the artifacts and style of consumerism. Jeff Koons elevated mundane yet gaudy mass-produced overpriced art ‘objects’ to even loftier status — a snide comment on the world of art buyers at the turn of the millennium.

So, how does one stay open? Read and view and visit and listen. Partake of all the arts: music, fashion, food, dance, theater, film, books, sculpture, video, craft. The undercurrents of culture that artists most often reflect or embody or advance or even initiate are usually lying beneath the surface of current arts, patiently waiting to be born anew into a new perspective. As the artist immerses herself or himself in the universe of arts, sooner or later one or more threads of innovative thought will weave within the receptive consciousness. Artists most often advance the leading, bleeding edge of society and culture. To do so, they must first comprehend just where that edge might lie.

To open the hands (or feet or mind), the struggling artist must continue to struggle. The artist must ply his or her art, rigorously and relentlessly. Practice, practice, practice. Every painted-over canvas or shredded manuscript or smashed sculpture or erased music file is but one more step toward achievement, perhaps greatness. As a fledgling architectural student, I was instructed — as a means of improving my freehand drawing abilities — to create roughly 25 complete full-page drawings each week (almost 4 each day) for a full term. Subject did not matter, only the discipline of drawing relentlessly. I drew in many styles and many media, creating fictional scenes, copying art masters, and capturing real life about me. By the end of term, my drawing skills had improved dramatically, as had my interest in drawing. (And, also, knocking out 4 full-page drawings each day became quite an easy task.)

Finally, to open one’s experience to inspiration, learn and strive to understand the stories behind past art, preferably up close and first hand. Once one stands beneath Michelangelo’s statue of David, and understands the time and place and society within which the Renaissance artist created that masterpiece, one sees what is possible with art. The same can be true as one visits a Prairie Style home by Frank Lloyd Wright, or surveys the jarring and vivid expanse of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, or inhabits an orchestra seat absorbing the strains of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

As the dreaming figure in the image above illustrates, fill your mind with all that the world has to offer, in its many colorful permutations, and artistic inspiration is sure to follow.

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