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Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. He was referring to a life governed by rules and routines imposed by others. Such a life is not freedom, but rather unconscious at best. Oppression at worst. When I begin quoting philosophers I know it is that time of year again. The Old Year ushering in the new. Socrates gave his life for that quote so the least we can do is reflect upon our own lives for a moment.
Reflection is Not Easy
As an artist I have a sense of trepidation doing this. Was the past year a success? Did my art improve? Have I lost the spark to create? Will next year improve or should I get a real job? Just kidding about the real job bit!
So there are a few hard truths to face. Which is good because this gives life meaning. And something to do while we wait for the next Gilmore Girls series. That is my wife's comment by the way.
The Number One Artist's Issue?
Anyway to be serious for a moment I have heard from many people over the year. Read their comments on blogs and social media and so forth. The number one issue is not how to improve one’s skill. It is how to get back to creativity. How to return to painting, for example. Sounds so simple, but there is a ton of baggage wrapped up in this idea.
What Me Worry?
I am not a psychologist, but as a husband, parent and artist I do have a little experience in life's curve balls. But the one that gets me is why are we so worried about what other people will think of us? At our age we should be brimming with confidence. Who cares if my drawing is dodgy? Or my painting comes with artist's license? It will improve as I get my mojo back. In the meantime I am having fun and relaxing.
What is Art Anyway?
The great artist and teacher Robert Henri said: "I don't believe any real artist cares whether what he does is art or not. Who, after all, knows what art is?"
Many people start retirement and think about returning to art. Or starting for the first time. I think first timers have an easier decision actually. It is the former artists who struggle the most. Art is a talent, but you learn your skill with practice. Or lose it through lack of practice.
The Set-Up for Failure
The scenario often follows this route. Retired artist wants to start painting again. Goes to the art store and purchases new supplies. Lovely easel, canvasses and other expensive items. Returns home and assembles studio. Begins painting straight away. Artist is shocked to discover that the painting is not good. A bit embarrassed by this the artist closes the studio door. Best not to show this off. Resolves to try again next time. Studio materials gather dust. There is not enough time anyway.
What is the Art Spirit?
The art spirit is for me, the ageless and limitless source of creativity within us. A child feels this instinctively without ego or conditions. As adults we stifle this spirit for material reasons or our ego inhibits us. Life happens, but creativity is life too. How can we justify burying our creative spirit for a moment longer?
If you want to explore this concept further I recommend that you read the book, The Art Spirit by Robert Henri.
There is Time
The trite excuse is that there is no time. I used this one too. Everyone has and it stinks. Back in school if I told the teacher that I did not have time to do my homework there were consequences. Not good ones. Too bad if I had sport commitments and other things going on. I had to make time. Now adults use this excuse all the time. Often at their own expense.
When I look back a few years ago I am shocked by the time wasted. Television alone stole chunks of my life. Until I cut the cable and released two hours a day. That is at least a painting per day right there. Imagine if a sold half of those paintings? That is potentially fourteen paintings a month!
The Real Price
So let us agree that we can find time. That we can keep our egos in check. Is art not too whimsical for us? Is it important? Let Robert Henri answer this:
"Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life's experience."
If you want to paint again, but somehow find a way to avoid it then consider this. You have a life of experiences to pour into your art. All the material is there waiting. All you need to do is begin. The wonderful part is that every painting is also a new beginning filled with potential. Why let this experience pass by?
Now is the Moment
I wonder if Socrates ever imagined that his words would be read over two thousand years later? Doubtful. But life's universal truths remain constant. If you find yourself doubting your artistic desires then stop second guessing. Instead begin to create again. Make art knowing that you are fulfilling an essential human need for expression.
The art spirit rewards you generously. More confidence as your skills grow. Relaxation. Freedom from anxiety when you are creating in the zone. Freedom from boredom, distraction and the daily drama of life. Not to mention less "retail therapy" which can lead to more problems. A home filled with your art is also something to treasure.
I hope that you find that moment in the next few days. The moment when you begin to make your art again. The moment when you change your routines a little and invite your art spirit back into your life. Socrates and Robert Henri would be proud of you.
Looking for guidance? I have a series of courses available at my Online Art Academy. Plus a special offer on my flagship course Learn to Paint with Impact included in this link.
PS: Have a look at my upcoming "Loosen Up Your Painting Workshop" It could be just the thing to plan into your painting year.
Are you inspired to begin your art? What are your creative goals? Tell us about how you got back into creating art again.
(Article first appeared in Sixty and Me)