Making art is an evolutionary process. As we create, we grow as artists and as people. We continually evolve, learning new skills, testing new ideas, adventuring into new territory. And we are tried by our materials, by our limits, by our dreams for what we wish to create.
When we look at the work of other artists–in any medium, not just our own–we can also use that encounter to develop as artists.
Develop Your Eye and Ear
Recently I read some poems in a new book I bought, and I found myself editing them in my mind, to make them even better poems. This often happens when I read the work of others. I see the mistakes—too many adjectives and adverbs, unnecessary words, too much explanation, not enough compression, the language not alive enough, the use of clichés. Sometimes the form is wrong or the line breaks could be better. Or the last lines are unnecessary and the poem is better without them.
Instead of judging these poems or simply reading them as they are, I work on them, play with them, see how they could be made better in my estimation, where they reach and fall a little short and what might fix that. In this way I engage more deeply with the poem.
By editing the poems in my mind, seeing how I would revise them to make them even stronger, I learn and grow as a poet. It is easier to spot the flaws in someone else’s work, and by practicing on these, I can then turn a more dispassionate editorial eye to my own creations. I also learn more about my own aesthetic, my own personal voice and what I’m longing for in art at this time.
Discover Your Own Aesthetic
I invite you to do this when you look at, listen to, partake in art. Not as a critic but as a maker. Look at how you would make this piece even stronger on its own terms, helping it be more of what it seems to want to be.
Or consider what you would do differently as an artist—how the piece does or does not satisfy your own aesthetic and how you would alter it to meet that. In this way, you get to know your own artistic desires more clearly, and you learn to challenge yourself too.
What’s the most exciting part of the piece? Where is it strongest? Where does it lose energy, if it does? What would you change to make it even more powerful, beautiful, effective?
Each piece we encounter is an invitation to encounter our own inner artist as well as the artist who made the piece.
Art Is a Path of Growth
In looking at the work of other artists, I see how we create ourselves into being, how we heal ourselves through art-making, even when the final product isn’t fully polished, isn’t magnificent. That’s OK too. This is our growth, our path. And it is wonderful.
The same is true for me and my poems. We do what we can at the stage we are. And the making helps us in so many ways. We can embrace this journey we are on. And embrace ourselves on the journey.
Poetry, art, is a path of growth, a winnowing. We walk this road even when the results aren’t keen. And in the walking, we learn to hone them, sculpting ourselves through the art of doing what we love.