In a productivity-focused society, one where every moment of the day can easily be packed full with work, intreractions and doing, the idea of non-doing can feel foreign. But what if the space of non-doing and being unproductive gives us a moment to recharge, refresh and approach the rest of our time from a less frantic perspective? While it could be argued that aimlessly browsing the internet, news feeds of social media channels is non-doing in that it may not be productive, your brain feels otherwise. Electronic devices stimulate the brain and do little to give us a break from an overload of constant and never ending information.
What if instead of spending so much time on electronic devices, we devoted some time to making art, allowing our brains a much-needed break from doing? You don’t have to have to start making art in order to improve in some way, you can choose to make art just for the sensation of making art. To experience the process or making something with your hands, instead of only consuming other people’s media. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of the fun found within the creative process: “Why should I go through all the trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?” The answer will usually come with a wicked trickster grin: “Because it’s fun, isn’t it?”
While fun is a worthy outcome of making art, the experience of regularly slowing down amidst the noise of every day life to do something that has no outcome has a significant and nourishing effect on the mind. Non-doing has more health benefits than constantly doing, but it’s hard for us to believe that not being productive has any value (given we’ve been socialised from a young age to constantly work on improving, striving and achieving). It takes a conscious decision to stop and try making art with no outcome. For those brave enough to try, a whole possibility of benefits opens up through the art-making process.
Deciding to stop an art project because it’s not “good enough” is not a good reason to stop making. If everybody judged their art on its perceived visual value and aimed for perfection, no art would EVER get made. No art is ever good enough if expectations are too high to begin with. Unwittingly setting perfection as the goal sets you up for disappointment because whatever gets made will instantly fall short. A far better expectation is simply finishing the project, giving it your full attention but letting go of the art needing to look a certain way.
Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic encourages “So if you can just complete something – merely complete it! – you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there. You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.” Let go of perfection and embrace getting things finished. It’s a far kinder and gentle way to approach making art which may allow you permission to continue making imperfect art regularly.
“Greater forces than us are running the show. The world doesn’t turn because we personally turn it. Step back for a minute and see how the show still goes on, even when we release the white-knuckle grip we have on the imaginary steering wheel of destiny.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
If you’re the kind of person who has thinks 6 impossible creative things before breakfast Alice in Wonderland style, having multiple ideas floating around all the time can be energising and exhausting simultaneously. It’s energising because the fizz of a new idea full of potential and possibility feels so great. But with multiple ideas it can also feel exhausting and, in a way, disheartening, because there’s not enough time (or mental energy) to do everything. If the desire to do it all is strong, remember you’re not a machine and it’s not about churning out a pile of completed art.
Ideas seem to come and go as they please, as though they have a life of their own. If you are attuned and open to them, it may seem like some set up camp in the garden, noisily clanging about every morning until you ask them to join you inside. It’s hard to ignore them so you may as well take action on them in order to get some peace! Others will knock at your door but either leave on their own almost immediately as though they suddenly realise they’ve got the wrong address, or will leave because you don’t answer. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks similarity about ideas: “When an idea thinks it’s found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. Mostly you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration… The idea will try to wave you down (perhaps for a few moments; perhaps for a few months; perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.”
The trick is be on the lookout for ideas and immediately pounce on the ones you feel most excitement about. Don’t wait to start them, even if you haven’t finished all your other projects or to-do daily chore lists (note: you will NEVER be done with your to-dos). Choose the ones that you feel most uplifted by. That energy of excitement is an indicator of what your heart wants to be creating. Don’t worry about doing ALL the ideas, just pick the best-feeling ones and if the others fall away, so be it. There’ll be new ideas to act on in the future… if you keep your eyes peeled for them.
What would ‘letting go’ look like when making your art? Perhaps it looks like allowing yourself to follow a strange curiosity or interest in a subject. Allow yourself to spend time, to indulge in the process of making art (although it can be argued that the act of making art – reconnecting to yourself – is not an indulgence, but a necessity and worthwhile endeavour). Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic encourages us to “Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.” It may mean choosing to ‘get it done’ or ‘good is good enough,’ and ignoring the illusive (and impossible) goal of perfection.
Letting go could mean making art in the face of your fears. Steven Pressfield in The Artist’s Journey suggests “The artist is afraid of the unknown. She’s afraid of letting go. Afraid of finding out what’s “in there.” Or “out there… This fear, I suspect, is more about finding we are greater than we think than discovering we’re lesser. What if, God help us, we actually have talent? What if we truly do possess a gift? What will we do then?”
What if we stepped out into the unknown to find out what lies beyond our reach? Discovering what lies ‘out there’ is worthy of your attention and time. For within the unknown, lies your power.
Perfectionist tendencys won’t get you far when you start making art. We can forget to simply enjoy making and to have fun because we want to make art that visually communicates the time and effort was worth it. Suddenly the little piece of art you make has a lot of expectations weaved into it: Be good. Show creative skill. Communicate creativity. But that’s setting your quality bar far too high, especially when you’re a beginner.
Making art is not about a perfected final piece, something that is so perfect that no one can criticise it. Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection explains “Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” This kind of perfectionist thinking freezes creativity in its tracks and will ultimately make you a more nervous artist because if you can’t make a mistake, you may stop making altogether. Brown goes as far to say “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Making ‘perfect’ art won’t make you a better artist or make you more creative. If you’re not allowed to make mistakes then you instantly limit your experimentation and creative potential. Experimentation requires freedom from quality and a willingness to get it wrong. The world needs ‘no perfection’ art because making something is better than never making anything.
Allow yourself to make ‘bad art’ because making no art at all is a far worse outcome.
“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.” — Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic
Have you ever started making art but suddenly you feel like you’re doing it all wrong? Or your pen slips and makes a unexpected mark that you’re cross about? In those moments the urge to want to start over is almost impossible to ignore but ignore it you must. Your future creative progress depends on it.
The reason for not wanting to make any mistakes and why we seek perfection is something Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks about: “I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
What if being imperfect and making mistakes makes you a better artist? What making mistakes now actually means if your future self can thrive? David Bayles and Ted Orland in Art and Fear explain “Such imperfections (or mistakes, if you’re feeling particularly depressed about them today) are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further. It is precisely this interaction between the ideal and the real that locks your art into the real world, and gives meaning to both.
When making art, the more mistakes the better! There is beauty in the imperfect – it’s human and real and that’s exactly what’s required when making art.
“Your own reasons to create are reason enough.” Advice from Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic, who believes following your curiosities will lead you in the right direction; if you can give yourself permission and time to follow them. “Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty… Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest of it will take care of itself.”
While making art for fun is the reason, purpose and outcome of the process, we get caught up with needing to make something perfected and of value (i.e. it’s been worth the time invested to produce a physical thing). Instead of it being about how many valuable things you can make, what if if was about having fun creating? Gilbert explains “Why should I go through all the trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?” The answer will usually come with a wicked trickster grin: “Because it’s fun, isn’t it?”
Wanting to create a finished, perfected thing can halt the whole creative process. Instead of making something good, make something that’s done. Progress is always more beneficial than perfect: “if you can just complete something – merely complete it! – you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there. You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.” Moving on quickly to make more art is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly so that we become less precious about making mistakes, and allow our creativity to flow. “At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heard.”
You are your own biggest critic, the only one that notices all the imperfections and rough edges in your art. Nobody else is keeping score because they’re too busy focusing on their own imperfections. Gilbert encourages us to make imperfect work and agrees that nobody is paying any attention anyway: “Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.” [emphasis added]
“Your own reasons to create are reason enough. Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty… Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest of it will take care of itself.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
The fragile process of beginning to make art again is hard for the ego, who wants to get everything perfect first time. Currently our culture encourages us to share our art with the world via social media. Why not share when you can get instant likes and feedback to encourage you to keep at it? But what if your audience isn’t enthusiastic? You feel proud you even finished making the thing but that feeling can feel squashed when someone says something even slightly critical.
You are your own worst critic and Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way discourages critiquing yourself too harshly because “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse.” But it’s not just yourself you have to worry about when “beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends.” A well-meant comment can feel like a pin to your enthusiasm balloon and questions about why you’re not spending your time on more ‘important’ things can feel confronting.
It may remind you of a past time when you received harsh criticism about your art and this might be enough to completely derail you from being creative. Your art is going to be unrefined in the beginning and you have to face that while you’re making it but do you really need less than supportive feedback from others? What if you chose to keep your art-making secret and made it just for you?
The idea of your art making being similar to a private diary or journal process is echoed in Felix Scheinberger’s book Dare to Sketch sketch-booking process: “My sketchbook is something very personal. I draw in it for me and not for others; I use it to describe my world and my life.” How making art for yourself is the goal and nobody else need be involved. “It’s your sketchbook and yours alone, and should matter to no one else. once you are aware of this, it becomes a lot easier to work on a sketchbook. You are not drawing for any presumed critics or admirers, but for yourself. You aren’t producing a presentation booklet, but a creative space that consciously allows for mistakes and experiments. Your sketchbook is not a public space. Protect it.”
Protecting it and keeping your art secret is a way to help your fledgling artist grow stronger and limiting anything that endangers that. Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic talks of having an affair with your art: “Let yourself fall in love with your creativity… and see what happens.” The idea of an affair being something that you undertake in secret, something you’d make sure was hidden from the world: “Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self… Conceal it from your family and friends, whatever it is you’re up to.”
The idea of making art in the dark, away from any other eyes could be the freedom you need to unleash your creative spirit. By treating your sketchbooks and notebooks as a private journal, you allow your confidence and skills to grow stronger undisturbed.
“[Creative recovery] It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good – to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.” – Julia Cameron
What if not taking action in the form of forced decisions and ‘busy-work’ for the sake of feeling productive, is actually the best thing you could do right now? Instead of the hustle and forced striving, you went with the flow and followed your curiosities gently, with no sense of rush?
Reading, dreaming, talking about your area of interest is all focus and holds so much power. We underestimate the value in thinking more consciously about how you want to show up in the world and what you want to create. It’s enough to be present and gently focusing. When it’s time to take action, it will feel exciting and you’ll do it naturally.
What could we create is there were no limits or rules and the goal was to follow your joy and pass that message onto others?
“You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end – except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.