6 Do’s and Dont’s of Being a Successful Artist

Every time I lead a workshop, I get the “but I’m not an artist” comment from at least one student. My response is always the same: we’re all born artists.

As a mother of a three-year-old, my belief in this statement is even stronger. I mean, check out the featured image of this post. I get a drawing of “mama and me” every single day. Is it proportionate? No. Is it “aesthetically pleasing”? Uh, depends on your taste. Is it a little bit horrifying? Maybe. Just don’t look too closely.

But guess what? Every single time, she gives one of these to me, my heart burst with happiness. Yesterday, she very proudly held one of her drawings up and announced, “I am an artist”! Who am I to say otherwise?

Not all of us make it as professional artists exhibiting in massive galleries, but we all have creativity sparkling inside of us. Often, it’s just buried under the pressure of heavy responsibilities, busy schedules, and rigid social structures. For those of us who are able to make room for our creativity, we still often manage to stifle it through our own expectations.

It’s hard to have the confidence and joyfulness of a child when so much of it has been scrubbed out by adulthood. So here are some dos and don’ts to building and sustaining a creative practice based on my own experiences.

Do expect your creativity to reward you, to create an additional layer of meaning in every part of your life. A tearful hug from an audience member, a homemade cake from a participant, a balloon of happiness expanding within your heart… These are the unexpected gifts your creativity will sprinkle upon you.

Don’t expect your creativity to reward you with money and fame. These goals are just a reflection of what society considers ‘successful’. If these are your end goals, there are easier ways to get to them. Our creations sew together the torn fragments of the world. What we create is valuable, even if it doesn’t always meet the standard definition of success.

Do expect your creativity to stun and surprise you. Bring down ‘art’ from its pedestal so your creativity can have free reign. Trust in the unknown. Encourage yourself. Your creativity will bloom when you play, experiment and let loose!

Don’t expect your creativity to bring you perfection. We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world. We can only make imperfect things. Be careful of the narrative you tell yourself.  If you start creating to achieve perfection instead of joy, your creativity will go into hiding, quietly withdrawing until the pressure lifts off.

Do expect your creativity to want excitement and change. Go to shows, take classes, and read books. Keep seeking knowledge and building connections.

Don’t expect creativity to always be around. Creativity doesn’t like being alone all the time, and it certainly doesn’t like being bored. Pretty much anything other than sitting at home and stewing about its absence will bring it back to you.

And that’s all I’ve got! Creativity is elusive and slippery. Expect too much, and it’ll flee. Let it breathe, and it’ll seep through the cracks of the ordinary in the most wonderful ways. I wish you the best of luck… and if nothing works, find a kid to draw with. They’re everywhere!

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