I am often discouraged with my art (art being a loose term that includes, at various times, writing, drawing or painting); what usually helps is being around like-minded people or, failing that, a virtual company of the artists I admire.
However, sometimes this fails to encourage me and even makes me feel worse. I think about these amazing, successful people and all I get is – just don’t bother. The magic that burns bright inside them and makes them produce those amazing works is strong. Fine, they practice a lot. They overcame a lot. But at the end they just do it. They sit down and write an amazing story or do an amazing sketch. It just rises out of them and flows out of their pen.
This sort of ‘you either got it or you don’t’ thinking makes me sad and makes me stop trying. Guess what happens when I stop trying? Nothing. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But every so often I come across something different.
It all began with Ken Robinson’s book “Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life” and the distinction between aptitude and ability.
The book has a very illuminating story about Feynman getting an idea related to his particle physics research while observing a waiter dropping plates – a logo on one of the plates was spinning and caught his eye. The idea led to more work eventually culminating in the Nobel prize. Yes, it does take a certain amount of alignment of the mind, aptitude, to notice those things. But it is nothing without the consistent application of work. After all, an idea not fleshed out, written down, and shared is just an interesting thought someone had.
How does this relate to writing? I believe there’s a certain way of looking at the world, a way of noticing things that are uniquely suited to writing. That voice at the back of my mind that goes ‘this can be a great line in a poem’.
I am a collector of different words and turns of phrase that could be later used for something else.
JK Rowling has a little article on Pottermore with the list of names of possible characters in Harry Potter. Many of them ended up in the finished work.
You know who else wrote a list similar to this? Me. At some stage during my school years. Do I mean that I could have written Harry Potter? No. I’m not JK Rowling. The point is our minds are not fundamentally different. The difference is that she kept going with her list and I didn’t with mine.
Another example is my favourite author Neil Gaiman. I have watched several interviews with him on youtube during coffee breaks, and I was so glad I did. Guess what, he also steals ideas from his kids – ‘Wolves in the walls’ is a phrase he got from his daughter and then developed into a story.
I am also prone to doing this – I have a published poem that has borrowed heavily from what I heard from my then 3-year-old son.
If writing is mysterious to me at times, the visual art is even more so. At least writing consists of recognisable units like words.
I have dabbled in drawing, painting, and (more recently) sketching pretty much all my life. I enjoy it but I am plagued by even more doubts of my ‘general worthiness’ when it comes to visual art than when it comes to writing.
Enter Jim Kay – I have learned about him recently while looking through illustrated Harry Potter. Naturally, I googled him and discovered this charming little video of his process. He is clearly incredibly talented, what is even more clear is that he works incredibly hard and gets himself all the help he can get from dressing up as Dumbledore to get the folds of fabric just right to making paper and plasticine models of Hogwarts.
Do I feel that there’s no magic in art? No. But there’s no ‘I don’t have it so don’t bother’ magic. How about ‘I have access to this magic too’?
The conclusion to all this is not surprising: put the hours in and do something for your art. Every day, even a little bit. You are not doomed to be shite unless you do nothing at all. And, hopefully, neither am I 🙂