Vulnerability in Art – Nicholas Wilton – Ep 29
May 11, 2022
ON TODAY’S EPISODE
Making art has always been a part of my life. Even as a little kid, the act of creation played an integral role in how I moved through the world. However, I remember many years where I didn’t like the work I was creating. Sometimes I would hit it, but often I felt like I had missed the mark. I hated feeling so vulnerable. I was exhausted from trying but not really pulling it off. I didn’t even want to talk about my art because I didn’t feel like an artist. Over the years though, I’ve learned that the vulnerability I was running from was the very thing I needed to be running towards. Join me, as I reflect on how I learned the importance of vulnerability, the role it plays in our art-making, and how we can use it to create our best work.
Listen if you are interested in…
- Running towards vulnerability [2:19]
- Using vulnerability to make better art [13:10]
- Can your art make you happy? [18:05]
- The quality of your “come from” [26:01]
Going out on a limb
I first learned the importance of vulnerability not in an art studio but on a 100-mile trail race through the forests and mountains of California. The Western States Race is not an event you can just show up to. It’s something that you have to train in advance for and kind of commit your life to. I trained for an entire year leading up to the race and it consumed me. My life became running as I slowly increased the distance I could cover in one sitting. My diet changed. My schedule changed. I changed! Aside from being in the best shape of my life, I became laser-focused on completing this race within the allotted 24-32 hour time limit and terrified that I would stall out in the middle.
On the day of the race, 400 participants showed up with nearly 3000 supporters to cheer them on. These people filled sporadic rest areas to provide warm smiles and hearty encouragement to those making the journey. Every time I stopped to fuel, I realized that I didn’t just want these friendly faces to be there…I needed them. Even knowing that my family was at the finish line waiting for me kept me going during the most difficult moments of the race. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to finish if it weren’t for every single one of them. The vulnerability required to do something like this broke me open. I watched people, virtual strangers, become essential pieces of my journey in a way that opened up my heart up to how much we need each other. It changed me forever. It showed me the incredible value of going out on a limb and everything that does for those who see it and within ourselves. We’re not supposed to be self-sustained islands pulling off impressive things. We are meant to rely on others in order to achieve the impossible. We can do so much more if we’re willing to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability creates connection
The vulnerability I learned during my race experience directly relates to the process of art-making and doing work that isn’t necessarily easy. We all have stretches where our work is simple, feels great, and everyone loves it. But over time, at least for me, that can get boring. I need a challenge. I don’t want my work to be predictable because then I’ll start to hate it. The quickest way to break out of predictability is to embrace vulnerability. I used to avoid it until it felt absolutely necessary. Now I realize that vulnerability is critical to making really incredible art.
Vulnerability isn’t a last resort option. It just comes with the territory of being an artist. Especially one who is committed to continuously developing themselves and their art. When you create art that comes from a place of confident vulnerability, there’s more room for people to see and experience you while simultaneously seeing themselves in the universality of the work. Just like the supporters at the race, people want to see themselves in what you’re doing so they can have connection. When you are vulnerable enough to put all of yourself into your work, not only will the art be better, the art business will flourish. People will want to own what you create because they connect with it.
Questions of art, life, and happiness
What makes an artist? Is it how many paintings you sell or how many likes you got on your last Instagram post? So many artists need their art to make grandiose statements about their identity. Here’s the problem: What happens to our identity when we go through struggle? What happens when we miss the mark on a painting? Or don’t sell as many paintings as we expected? Are we no longer artists? Of course not! Being an artist is first and foremost about making art. Yes, being able to make a living and have success with our art is a worthy goal, but it can’t be our “come from”, the place from which we create our art.
Yet, so many artists create from a place where it’s more about the performance of art-making than the artwork itself. They need their art to succeed on every level to be happy. They want their art to give them all the answers. And when the work doesn’t live up to their expectations, they feel like they’re floundering. Much like I did! I can tell when there is too much “me” in the work. Either too many of my expectations and concerns. Or too much pressure that I’m placing on this poor little canvas to make me happy. Ironically, those tend to be my worst pieces. Vulnerability is the best orientation to create from because it says, “Hey, I DON’T know what I’m doing but I’m learning, I’m excited, and I’m trying my best.” Vulnerability is perfectly content sitting in the questions rather than always needing an answer. And I find that questions make better paintings because everyone has them. So be vulnerable! Do scary things. And find happiness in the connection your art can create.
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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.
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