7 Hard Questions for Every Artist

[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…

7HardQuestionsforEveryArtist 7 Hard Questions for Every Artist

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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.

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  • Jan V

    ah here is the spot for my post…. If you read it on the latest question, just overlook my mistake. happy to hear your comments….
    my frank answers to the 7 hard questions for every artist.

    1. Am I really serious about my craft?
    Which craft? I seem to be but I have no ‘pudding’ to prove it. I like writing and painting. I have a beautiful nearly completed shed in which to paint and worship. I have just retired so I ‘have the time’.
    I have subscribed to online help for artists and have most of the tools I could require. I have even set myself the task to paint a portrait of a friend husband who died a few months ago.

    2. Do I posses the necessary character qualities to become a strong artist?
    No. I have yet to disentangle myself from codependency to do what enriches my soul enough to become a strong artist. But I don’t want to turn up to God with a single dirty gold coin in my bag saying I was afraid to do anything with it. Now is the time to ‘get over myself’ and ‘get on with it’. As I put in the effort one step at a time I know something will come of it even if it looks different to the conventional. God knows I want to walk with Him – but He is yet to see me step into the more.

    3. Can I receive constructive criticism that would make others wither?
    Yes. I can even receive bullying that would make others get out of the boxing ring. How much heart I would have to start again though I don’t know. Maybe my answer is maybe.

    4. Is your work original and refreshing?
    Yes. There is no one quite like me or with my experiences. Some will relate and others will walk right past whatever I have to offer.

    5. Do you have a supportive community?
    No. Maybe. Sort of. I have family, friends and church who love me and want the best for me and even some who share an interest in art. So maybe my answer should be yes – once I do something to be supportive of!

    6. Do I have a life apart from art?
    Well I have to as I wouldn’t really have a life at all if art was the only thing – as I am just a ‘wanna be’ artist at this stage. So yes I do. I love the challenge of dream interpretation. Am keenly interested in health as a family member is very ill. I love hearing mysteries from God and walking my little dog at sunrise or sunset. I like cleaning house and arranging flowers too.

    7. Do I give back?
    Yes. But I could give more if I did more for myself and put sweat into my passions – I would have more of myself to give then.

    Thanks for the questions Joey – and being interested enough to ask for the answers.

    Bless you,
    Jan

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      I’d like to recommend ‘The War of Art’ by Stephen Pressfield. In 3 Steps to Overcoming Creative Resistance, I wrote about Pressfield’s insights. Though I don’t agree with everything he has to say, his book is a great kick in the pants for everyone (myself included) who struggles with procrastination and getting on with the task of creating.

      Thank you Jan for the detailed response to these questions. You know what you need to do…now go do it with the freedom and confidence that comes in Christ. Thinking about it will not enrich your soul…creating will.

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  • techne

    what a great series of questions!
    i also often ask questions about which tradition people are part of. do they know their lineage?
    further, “do you know why you are doing what you’re doing?” in other words, do you know what your project is? the content you’re exploring? do you know what you’re saying (or if people are hearing)?

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thanks Edward…your questions are thoughtful as well. By asking questions, it helps me to “think through” my thinking and practice being a better listener. We live with such information-overload, I find it helpful to slow down and ponder some thoughtful questions.