People talk about “life imitating art” -- and it really does.
Last week, the abundance of public holidays inspired me to pull out my treasure chest of art supplies and start playing. My mother is a talented artist, so I grew up painting and drawing. I was quite prolific until Year 9, when one of my art teachers told me that my work was “not creative enough”. (Can you relate to this?) Since then, I’ve dabbled here and there but rarely allowed myself to immerse myself in it completely -- until a few days ago.
As I reacquainted myself with my paints and brushes, I noticed how the process of creating art is similar to most creative activities -- including creating a business (which I’m also doing) and, more broadly, creating a life that we are proud to live. That led me to consider how adopting a "creative mindset" could help us to live more authentic, meaningful and colourful lives.
From the canvas to the keyboard, here are some insights on being an artist in your own life:
1. The hardest part is starting
Staring at a blank canvas can be terrifying. Why? My theory is that it’s because that first mark is a form of commitment -- and many people are afraid of making commitments because they think they're permanent and can't be changed (even though they don’t always act on them in the same way!). They judge their first attempt as if it should be their best work. In other words, they approach art with a fixed mindset.
Art is a constant process of learning. By giving ourselves permission to be a learner -- regardless of our level of experience or assumptions about our innate talent -- we free ourselves to experiment and learn/improve as we go.
2. You can't really fail because you can (almost) always build on your mistakes
The other day, I painted what I intended to be an abstract representation of the Sun. (I like the Sun.) It ended up looking more like a pepperoni pizza. (I love pizza, but not on my wall.)
I was tempted to throw it out, but then my mother encouraged me to paint over it. It turns out that "real" artists are constantly tweaking their work -- shaping it and changing it over weeks, months and even years. And when the "mistakes" are more substantial, you can usually paint over them. This isn’t about obliterating your mistakes -- it’s about building on them. The “failed” layer underneath is what gives texture and nuance to the new layer above. (And it's much better for the environment!)
3. The key to great art is "differences"
Although we might disagree on what constitutes great art, we can probably agree that great art is interesting. And the key to making interesting art (as I learned from a YouTube tutorial) is “differences”.
Art that is composed of elements that are too similar tends to be -- well, boring. Professional artists use differences in the elements -- that is, differences in size, shape, colour, value (tone), texture, etc -- to create contrast and tension. They also take care to balance these differences to avoid visual chaos. So if you want your art to be impactful and memorable, mix it up a little!
4. Art encourages us to be mindful
It is very difficult to paint (or draw or sculpt, etc) unless you are fully present. So, in a way, art is meditation in action -- which is great news for those of us who find it hard to sit still for more than two minutes.
And like more traditional forms of mindfulness, it changes the way you see. You notice details, nuances, subtleties that you would otherwise miss in the busyness of life. It makes you a better observer -- and the better (more accurate) your observations, the more choices you have about how you respond to them.
5. Art is messy!
And that’s part of the fun. What doesn’t wash out becomes a testament to your creativity.
6. The best art comes from the heart
In the end, my high school art teacher was probably right -- I wasn’t particularly creative back then because I wasn’t coming from my heart. Having experienced a fair bit of bullying/racism growing up, I learned to compartmentalise my emotions rather than express them freely. Only relatively recently have I learned to really feel my emotions again -- and this is bringing greater clarity, authenticity and originality to both my art and my life.
7. Art takes courage
French post-Impressionist painter Henri Matisse made this observation -- and he's right.
Art involves a journey into the unknown. When we're young, we're taught to "colour inside the lines". But great art -- art that moves people and inspires change -- takes risks for the purpose of communicating an idea. To do this, we have to accept that not everyone will like or appreciate our work. Great art tends to polarise people (for example, I love Salvador Dalí's work but some find it offensive) -- but that's why it's so powerful. It forces us into our emotions and those emotions aren't always comfortable -- but they are what make us human.
Now, here's a call to action:
If you're dissatisfied with any aspect of your life, consider how these insights might apply to it -- whether it's your career, your business, your side-hustle, your work project, your client meetings, or... Well, you get the picture (pun intended!).
How can you bring more creativity into your own life?
Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.
~Leonardo da Vinci