Uncertainty is a big part of making art, which can be a challenging force to dance with on a regular basis. Uncertainty is the act of making something out of nothing, of not knowing what marks will emerge before you start and being unsure a lot of the time about what you’re making. While this force can be a challenge, it can also be exhilarating to not know what’s round the next creative corner. When there are no rules in art, there are no wrong turns and only possibilities.
Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz in 10 Simple Solutions to Worry encourage that “It’s uncertainty—the thrill of not knowing—that allows us to get caught up in life and feel romance, excitement, joy, and wonder. When we give up the need to know, life becomes vibrant and yes, a little risky… A life without uncertainty would leave no possibility of pleasant surprises, and negative outcomes known in advance would eliminate the desire to take any risks.”
You can play it safe and try to avoid any uncertainty, or you can choose to lean into the unknown and trust that the perceived risk will pay off in unknown ways down the road.
Do you believe every person has the potential to be creative through practice, or that you’re born naturally talented? The answer reveals whether you have a growth (there’s potential) or a fixed (born that way) mindset. Having a fixed mindset will limit your potential for growth and development because as Carol Dweck in Mindset suggests, “No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.” Effort is key because talent only gets you so far in the beginning. Effort will take further in the long run, but only if you’re willing to persistently and consistently show up.
Shaun McNiff in Trust the Process notes when viewing children’s art we can see every child has the ability and permission to create. But through a schooling experience, “freedom is restricted for the majority of people as the identification of “talent” tends to overshadow universal participation.” We get disheartened if our art isn’t ‘good’ enough and believe we should stop if doesn’t showing visible signs of ‘talent.’ McNiff argues that a person’s license to create cannot ever be taken away, it’s “as natural as breathing and walking.” This can be a challenging notion to accept if you believe you’re not creative either by self-judgment or through the judgment of others. Is it is possible to move from not-being-creative to being-creative? Always. McNiff encourages “Training in creativity requires the ability to relax in periods of uncertainty and to trust that the creative intelligence will find its way” as well as “an inclination to step into the unknown as well as the ability to persist when there is no end in sight.”
If you can spend a few moments sitting with the uncertainty, (the uncomfortable feeling of not-knowing) not rushing the feeling away or stopping the art-making process, you will discover that the uncertainty will rise and fall if you allow it to just be. Whisper some encouraging words to yourself, take a breath and continue to make your art.
How do we gain (and keep hold of) confidence when practicing making art considering most of the time, we make everything up as we go? When creativity is so varied, fluid and intangible, it’s no wonder we can feel lost when making something new. But it’s normal to feel like your making everything up as you go as Steven Pressfield in The Artist’s Journey explains “No matter what a writer or artist may tell you, they have no clue what they’re doing before they do it—and, for the most part, while they’re doing it.”
How is it possible to gain confidence when navigating the unknown of your own creativity? What would that look like on a daily basis? Perhaps confidence isn’t feeling 100% sure of what you’re doing, but instead is knowing you’re actually trying something new. You’re taking action and that’s incredibly brave. Carol S. Dweck in Mindset encourages us “True self-confidence is “the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.”
Having confidence of steel about your art is something you may never gain. Even a master artist with decades of experience will have days when they question everything they make. Take comfort that if they still doubt their art, it’s okay that you do. Sustainable confidence is grown through small incremental steps over time, especially when trying something new. Making mistakes, failing and regularly practicing is all part of the mix, providing valuable data about your own creative tastes and to highlight areas for future growth and practice. Allow yourself to be open to change by making art and see how your confidence gently grows over time.
“In order to discover new lands, one must be willing to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” — Andre Gide
Creating art can feel a lot like making something in the dark. Surround by complete darkness, you fumble and bump about, trying to get a feel for what you’re making and where you’re going. This is a normal part of the creative process. The more unknown things are, the greater potential for creativity, if we can learn to be brave in the darkness. With practice and hope – a belief you will work it out – comes bravery.
Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird encourages “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work.” Hope still finds a way in the darkness, you don’t need to know everything before you begin.
Keep showing up to your art, keep fumbling about and you will be rewarded over time.
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.
The belief “I’m not creative” is not a helpful belief if you want to start making art. In fact, it may block you from taking any action at all. The good news is you can change the belief by deciding to think something different instead. If you see the belief “I’m not creative” to be a story – a tale made up by your mind – then why not choose a story that encourages you? The black and white thinking of “I’m NOT creative” is unhelpful because it blocks potential creativity. Choosing to instead believe a kinder, more encouraging story allows you more freedom to create.
“I’m allowing more creativity into my life.”
“I love how making art makes me feel more creative.”
“I’m learning to be more creative.”
“I enjoy the feeling of making something.”
Another kind of story is a conspiracy theory, something Brené Brown in Rising Strong talks about: “Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.” If negative talk is the mind keeping us safe from the perceived danger of trying something new, then we can thank it for its concern and get back to making our art. Decide there’s no real danger and tell your mind to believe a new positive story, one that’s likely to be more accurate than the old negative belief.
There’s no arrival point, no end or finish line when it comes to your creativity. There will be no trumpet sound when a higher level of craftsmanship is reached and you’ll never get there – the place where you’re happy with everything you make and feel completely comfortable all the time. Uncertainty allows creativity to flourish. If you know all the answers before you begin, how can you grow and develop as an artist?
Jeff Goins in Real Artists Don’t Starve encourages “We don’t make meaningful art through lateral moves but by constantly challenging ourselves to new heights. We cannot create great art without continuing to create ourselves. This work is a process of continuous reinvention. We don’t just do it once. It is a journey of becoming, one in which we never fully arrive.”
If it’s impossible to fully arrive, choose to ignore the imaginary finish line you’ve made up and stuck into the challenge of growing creatively.