I believe there are seven hard questions every artist must answer if they are really serious about their craft. Are these the only seven? Of course not, but I think it’s important that we ask ourselves hard questions. The easy questions have never moved me out of comfort or complacency. You and I grow only when we ask ourselves the hard questions.
Take 30 minutes today and write down your responses to these questions. (I’d love your feedback!) Your responses may seriously improve the quality of your art and your life! Read on…
1. Are you really serious about your craft?
People have said you have talent, but are you really serious about your craft? There is simply no substitute for spending hours in the studio, at your computer, at your keyboard, outside filming or shooting your next series of photos. The name “artist” is easily thrown around by people who dabble, but don’t take their craft seriously. If you are serious about the gifts God has given you, then you will do whatever’s necessary to improve your craft.
Case in point: My writing partner and I are now completely dismantling our screenplay that has already won five awards. For the past four months, we have completely shredded Acts 1, 2 & 3. Why? We want to make it better. “Good enough” is not good enough. Artists who are serious about their craft will do whatever’s necessary to take their work to the next level. Serious artists go the extra mile, take the next class, get the next critique, find a mentor or pay whatever money is necessary to improve their craft. I recently wrote about this in 3 Steps for Overcoming Creative Resistance.
Are you serious about your craft? Only you can answer this question.
2. Do you possess the necessary character qualities to become a strong artist?
Notice, I did not say “famous” or “rich” artist. A strong artist is always looking to improve the quality of their art. Is it any wonder, for artists with this mindset, that the quality of their work improves over time? Persistence. Patience. Delayed gratification. Industriousness. Self-discipline. Humility. Human nature wants to take the easy route, but to excel at your craft, you need a strong heart, mind and character to go the distance.
You are no different than a marathoner runner in training to run the very best race he or she can.
There is no substitute for character. And character is always revealed through action. What actions demonstrated your character as an artist?
3. Can you receive constructive criticism that would make others wither?
There are two types of criticism: Constructive criticism and negative criticism. Nobody likes negative criticism. This type of criticism says much more about the mean-spirited critic than the artist or the artwork. A good critic, say a teacher, mentor or professor, is always interested in developing the artist.
But too often, an overly sensitive artist may misinterpret constructive criticism as negative criticism. When this happens, there is a grand missed opportunity for learning. How often does our fear of failure result in missed opportunities to learn and grow through good, solid feedback?
We will always learn more from solid constructive criticism than the praise and adulation our easy-street ego craves.
4. Is your work original and refreshing?
Are you going the safe route being a copycat? A true mark that an artist is serious about their craft is uniqueness and a “freshness” in their work. Does your work make people say, “Wow, I’ve never thought of that? How did you come up with that idea? I’ve never seen or heard it done it that way?”
There is a place for experimenting, copying, learning and performing (you don’t see extreme variations of The Nutcracker), but whatever artistic discipline you practice, seek to find your own creative voice. From there, make your mark on the world.
5. Do you have a supportive community?
To be an artist for the long haul, you need a community who both challenges and pushes you on in your work? You don’t necessarily need to have an artistic community. You simply need friends or family who can bring more depth, meaning and perspective to your life. As I writer, most of my work is done in isolation. I really don’t know that many other writers.
But what would I do without my wife, family and good friends? They help me stay grounded in my life, my work and what is most important to me.
6. Do you have a life apart from your art?
Please say yes. Question #6 is closely tied to Question #5. I hope you have a life apart from your art. My good friend, Wayne Forte, is an amazing visual artist. You’ve seen many of his paintings here on Art, Life & Faith, but is his life limited to his art? The guy is amazing. He’s a family man who is active in his church and his Filipino community. He’s also an incredible chef, a ball room dancer, a student of big ideas, theology, and culture. His art is ONE part of his life and all the other facets of his life pour into his artwork.
If your ego and identity are so tied to your work that your artwork is all you talk about, then you’re in danger of becoming a one-note artist. You might need a few more notes to create some melody and harmony in your life. Take up something new. Polka. Nanotechnology. Go to the gym. Serve at a local food bank. You won’t be lacking in new ideas and perspectives. You’ll also become a much more interesting person.
7. Do you give back?
Are you generous? Do you help and serve others without expectation of repayment? Do you help and assist others as others have helped you along the way? Do you offer encouragement to other artists just like the day you needed some encouragement?
Giving back is a good sign of a full heart that is grateful for the privilege of being an artist.
How you answer this last question might reveal how close you paid attention to Questions 1-6.
Questions: Which question is most important for you to answer first? Why?
I’d love your comments and feedback.