How do we improve our art? I definitely subscribe to the 10,000 hours of hard work idea. This rule originally proposed in Malcolm Gladwell’s NY Times bestselling book “Outliers, The Story of Success” suggests that only by practicing 10,000 hours at a specific task you are able to become successful at whatever it is your doing.
I am pretty sure I have worked at art for at least 10,000 hours, however, lately I have begun to realize that possibly there is something more involved in being successful.
I recently led a workshop in Gualala, a small seaside town located along the coast in Northern California. In this workshop we did not do any art. Instead, we engaged in conversations about the feelings of art making. What barriers we each felt in regards to our own art, what works, what doesn’t, etc. For many people, just getting to have a conversation with others about what they were after, what their work that was yet unmade looked and felt like. How does this thing called art fit into each of our lives? What is it exactly for each of us? It all seemed extremely helpful for everyone. We went on hikes and spent an entire afternoon sitting and talking on giant piles of driftwood on an extraordinarily beautiful beach. It was a great weekend filled with a lot of laughter and great food and gorgeous landscape, however, it wasn’t until I returned that I understood the full magnitude of that weekend.
Because the participants of this workshop were all people in my mentoring program I was able to see some astonishing results several weeks later….
Across the board–every ones work massively improved or took major shifts in that direction. Many people just painted over previous work, others finally broke through to far more refinement that had eluded them for months previous. One of my artists actually said that the feeling of that weekend- the spaciousness, the connection she felt in herself and others, coupled with the raw beauty of the place was how she wanted her future work to feel.
As a teacher I work hard to figure out ways of helping others shift and move their work to a place that is more in alignment, and more authentic, however I have never gotten this kind of a result so quickly before. Especially without actually doing art!
So many of us feel, including myself, if only my work was …, if only I could have this kind of success…etc. then I would feel so relieved, so happy. If I can work super hard at changing my career, my art in some particular way, then I will be successful.
What this weekend got me seriously thinking about was how and what I am teaching. Maybe great work comes more as a result of the thinking. Maybe we can take gigantic shifts not only by just working hard but also because we can project how we want our work, our lives really, to feel in the future and then once that is clarified, change our work to match that feeling.
This idea is so beautifully summarized by Martha Beck in her book “Steering by Starlight” This, for me is a remarkable couple of sentences: “External circumstances do not create feeling states. Feeling states create external circumstances”
In other words, maybe I have had everything kind of backwards…. the state or desired feelings we want, so tirelessly sought after by endlessly pushing at whatever it is we do –could maybe simply be achieved way ahead of schedule. Maybe if we can imagine the feeling and actually experience it, know it, recognize it, that then, the work, the art, can more easily BE like this feeling or state of being.
I don’t think I have my head entirely around this yet. I am not even sure it fits in with the subject matter of this blog. I am not even sure I know what I am talking about. However when something wakes me up repeatedly in the middle of the night I know there is something there.
Does anyone else utilizes this idea, or better understands it in regards to the creative process? Any thoughts would be super helpful for me.
In gratitude, Nicholas W
the founder of Art2Life.
With over 20 years experience as a working artist and educator, I’ve developed a systematic approach that brings authenticity, spontaneity and joy back into the creative process.