How to Measure Success as an Artist

How to Measure Success as an Artist

How you measure success as an artist affects your creativity, health, happiness and more. I look at how I measure success, how the culture measures success, external and internal measures of success and how you can increase your own success as an artist.
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Why We Need to Make Art Now (More Than Ever)

Why We Need to Make Art Now (More Than Ever)

When we make art, we aren’t destroying. We are uniting, rather than dividing.

When we create, we find and build connections between things, instead of separation. We knit pieces of the world together.

We hold up the beauty, magic and magnificence of the world, so that we all can awaken from the trance of not enough, of materialism and conflict, and remember what really matters.

When we make art, we forget consumption, lust for power, envy, pettiness, the feeling of not enough.

When we create, we play. We become lighter of heart. We remember joy, wonder, love. We don’t take ourselves so seriously. Or we may even lose our small selves completely in the act of creation.

We touch the numinous. We awaken our hearts, souls, spirits, our best selves. And we awaken this in others, just by being creative, and also by sharing our art.

We work out our troubles on the page, stage, canvas, clay, musical instrument. We release what is pent inside that is causing storms and dis-ease, waiting to explode if not given some healthy outlet.

Value-holders and Vision-keepers

The arts uphold values of love, connection, wisdom, wonder, beauty, truth. They validate, strengthen and remind us of our deep need for these things, our preference for these things which we too easily forget in the busyness and disconnection of our daily lives.

Your photographs and weavings, your collages and beadwork, your songs and dances help make a world of beauty, sweetness, deep heart, a world of revelation and vulnerability.

You give voice to something needing to be said, however hard it may be. And you do it artfully, so that something deep within can awaken in us.

Artists are the vision-keepers, the wayshowers, the conscience of a culture. That is why they have been oppressed, imprisoned, shut down and killed by oppressors throughout time.

Because we have tremendous power as artists.

The power to create. The power to love. To tell the truth, to care. And to be silly too, playful, irreverent.

To speak in sacred language. For, what else is symbol, color, music and metaphor but a kind of holy speech?

So make art. Make time for your art. Now. Make a little time if that is all you have. It will heal you. It will heal our world. One creative act at a time.

The One Thing You Need for a Prolific Creative Life

The One Thing You Need for a Prolific Creative Life

Is there one thing that makes the difference between a happy, prolific creative life and a frustrating one filled with fits and starts? In this post, I answer this and how it can change your whole life, not just your creativity.

About a week ago, I went to a wonderful literary event in my town.

One of my goals for myself as a writer is to attend at least one literary event every month.

Writing is an introverted art form, so this goal helps to get me out of the house and involved in the literary community. It also provides inspiration.

Hint: Make a simple goal to support yourself in having creative community and regular doses of inspiration.

Every two months YubaLit hosts a reading that features a mix of local and non-local authors, reading from works that range from fiction to poetry to memoir. In addition, anyone who attends the reading may put their name in a hat for a chance to read a single page or poem. Five writers get this opportunity at each event.

The quality is exceptionally high, the format engaging, the evenings always lively. I have been to most of the readings since the series got its start a couple of years ago.

The event I recently attended was a book launch for Sands Hall’s remarkable memoir, Flunk. Start.: Reclaiming My Decade Lost to Scientology. Her book is absolutely riveting, warm, compassionate, both painful and uplifting. I am devouring it. You can get it at your local bookstore or at Powells.com (which is an independent bookstore and therefore way better than Amazon.)

Something happened at the reading that I had to share with you.

Is There Just One Thing?

At the event I met Don Rogers, the publisher of The Union, our local newspaper. As I told him about my work as a teacher and creativity coach, he asked me if there was one thing that it all boils down to in terms of fostering the creative process and reaching our creative aspirations.

I replied, “There isn’t just one thing, but if there were, it would be routines.”

There is nothing more central to a vibrant, fulfilling creative life than having a regular creative practice.

If you read about the lives of prolific artists in all disciplines, you will be amazed at how they almost all talk about their creative routines. Sometimes these involve elaborate and arcane rituals, sometimes simple and prosaic. But, all of these artists adhere to their routines with a combination of religious devotion and the ferocity of a mother bear protecting her cub.

I do the same.

Four days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I am in my studio, writing, reading, revising, researching, sending out work. When I have more time, I spend more time, but those hours are sacrosanct. I don’t schedule meetings, doctor’s appointments or phone calls during that time.

writer at work

photo by Matthew Lejune on Unsplash

If You Show Up, Your Muse Will Too

Artists who are consistently creative almost all adhere to a regular schedule of times during which they create. They don’t wait for inspiration to show up. They show up and inspiration comes. Not every time, but they learn to work when they are not feeling inspired also.

They don’t wait for their lives to settle down, or to have the perfect space, or for the to do list to be completed (it never will be), or even for the most urgent items on that list to be crossed off.

Prolific artists—artists who are actually making art—make their art their priority and show up unfailingly.

Most of all, they don’t wait until they feel like making art, because we will always put things in the way of making art. We will always want to stall and make excuses.

Our Art Brings Up Resistance

Art demands that we show up fully, that we are vulnerable and real, that we risk and challenge ourselves in ways that much of our daily lives don’t require. Making art is one of the hardest—as well as the most fun and rewarding—things we can do. Because it’s hard and it’s risky, we resist it.

If there is one thing that makes the difference in feeling fulfilled in your creativity, and therefore in your life, it is having a regular creative practice.

The students I work with who resist routines are also the ones that struggle with bursts of inspiration followed by dry spells and doubts. They are the ones who feel they can’t get control of their time or their lives. They can’t stay focused or bring things to completion.

The ones who have a regular creative practice generally come to our sessions excited, glowing, feeling on purpose in their lives. And they get to see things come to fruition.

When We Make Time for Art, Life Feels Better

The reason they are glowing is they are making time for what they love, what lights them up. Doing that radically changes how we feel about our whole lives. It changes how we move through our day.

You need to find a routine that works for you, your way of creating, your schedule, your energy.

If you are struggling with that, please know: There is nothing wrong with you! This is incredibly common among artists.

You may need some wise suggestions around how to find and stick to a creative habit that works for you. You probably need to learn tools to move through resistance, fears and blocks to creating. Both of these can require some skilled facilitation.

But most of all you need to commit with your whole heart to a plan of when you will create each week, not allowing anything to come in the way.

Then, the magic begins!

To your prolific creativity,

Maxima

P.S. If you would love to develop a creative habit that feels wonderfully exciting, if you would love to see your creative aspirations come to life, contact me for a free Discovery Session to explore how my Creativity Mentoring can change your life.

You may also want to read my posts on The Power of Creative Routines and The Power of Ritual.

Happy Year of the Earth Dog!

Happy Year of the Earth Dog!

This past week we had a new moon (and partial solar eclipse) that ushered in the Chinese new year.

We have departed the year of the fire rooster (or phoenix) and entered the year of the earth dog.

What does this mean for us?

Justice, Truth and Integrity

Astrologer Susan Levitt writes: “This new Moon is a solar eclipse, so what is hidden can come to light this year. Under the influence of vigilant Dog, the truth is sniffed out, and integrity is rewarded.

The good news continues:
“Dog year is a time of fairness and equality. Controversial issues are given their due, revolutions are successful, politics are liberal, and political oppression is opposed. Justice and honesty are the values that lead to success during Dog year.”

To read more, including to find out how the dog year affects your personal Chinese astrological sign, read here: https://susanlevitt.com/astrology/dog-year-2018/

Loyalty, honesty, integrity, trustworthiness are dog qualities. The dog is noble and good. While earth brings such aspects as stable, practical, grounded and reliable.

A New Vision for Our World

The element of earth and the year of the dog only come together once every 60 years. The last time this occurred was 1958.

According to karmaweather.com, the year of the earth dog can provide a re-visioning of our human lives and systems, and the underdog will demand to be heard.

Health and Wealth

The Year of the Earth Dog 2018 is an excellent time for lifestyle changes, particularly related to adopting new healthy habits.

It could be an auspicious year for finances and starting new business ventures, but be careful to be practical, grounded and not extravagant in spending.

Take Action

dog on beach

by Tao Jones, Unsplash

Both Chinese and Western astrology agree this is an ideal year to get into action towards what you desire to create with your life. In a dog year it is particularly important to align those desires with the greater good of humanity and life on Earth.

How are you serving others?

I had to share this last bit of good news (from https://lighthousefengshui.com/2018-predictions/):

“Due to a very strong wood element, those pursuing activities having to do with literature, art, business, and efforts of an inspirational nature will be favored.”

So, go forth and create, take action toward your dreams, and join with others in serving a higher purpose. To your fulfilling year,

Maxima

P.S. If you’d like help getting into action to create what you love, I offer one-on-one Coaching and Mentoring.

P.P.S. If you enjoyed this post, take a moment to let me know. Post a comment here or share this with a friend.

We Need the Voices of All the Artists

We Need the Voices of All the Artists

“We need the voices of all the poets,” Robert Duncan wrote. This has long been a credo of mine.

Yet, I have to remind myself of it. Especially when I’m feeling “not good enough” as a poet.

At times like those, I can start to feel “What’s the use? Who needs my poems anyway?” There are so many poets writing today and too few readers. It can feel overwhelming and hopeless.

When we are feeling this way, we have lost sight of a vital truth, a truth we may not have been told when we were young, but one that is essential to living ongoing, joyful, creative lives:

by Elena Ray on Unsplash

Your Artistic Voice Is Unique

You have something to say. Your voice, perspective and experience are unique. There has never been another you in all of time. You have unique gifts that the world needs. You have something of value to share. Or you wouldn’t be here.

You wouldn’t have an urge to write or paint or dance, if someone didn’t need what you are creating. Or if we didn’t need the self you will become through the act of creating. Because creating transforms us in powerful ways.

You Still Have to Work to Refine Your Art

Just because you are unique and needed here doesn’t mean you can be lazy about your art.

Man drawing

by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

You owe it to your art and your audience to hone your work to its finest expression. To play hard at it. To not be self-satisfied with half-measures and sloppiness. To wrestle with your art. To stretch and challenge yourself. To study and learn.

Devote yourself to the deep study of your craft, the work of other artists, the history of your art form. Work with teachers, mentors and peers to refine your technique and expression.

I believe in working devotedly at your chosen art form, if you wish to share your work with others beyond a few friends and family.

If you wish to develop as an artist, then you are choosing to serve not only yourself and your own ambitions, but a larger purpose, to serve your people, to serve Life, to serve the Divine.

You are agreeing to step beyond mere “self-expression” and your own desires into a greater realm of service, surrender, mystery.

Welcome. You have chosen a great path, or rather it has chosen you.

That path will challenge you and ask much of you. Some days it will bring you to your knees in despair, doubt or disappointment. It will also grace you with support, synchronicities and blessings.

Creative Hobbies Are Also Wonderful

Don’t get me wrong: The act of creation is meant to be divine play, not joyless, nose-to-the-grindstone work.

Allowing ourselves to have creative hobbies, for which we have no ambition, but simply allow ourselves to play, to create for the joy of creating, is an enormously healthy, wonderful gift to ourselves and our world.

Creative play makes us happier, sweeter, more alive people. It brings more fun and grace to our lives. It makes us more adaptable, responsive and imaginative. These are all great goods. Worthy in and of themselves.

So let yourself make messes, experiment and just play with art too. Let yourself dabble in art forms you don’t wish to master.

Go Forth and Create!

Whatever road you choose, to simply play and have fun (as I do with collage) or to devote yourself to an art form in service to a higher calling (as I do with poetry and writing), bless you.

We need the voices of all the artists.

To your abundant creativity,

Maxima

Scenes from the Past: A Creativity Prompt

Scenes from the Past: A Creativity Prompt

In my post last week, I shared with you how to get inspiration and training by copying the masters of your art form and translating what you learn to your own unique style. If you missed that, click here for Great Artists Steal or How to Learn from the Masters.

This week, I promised you a new creative “prompt” or idea to jumpstart your own inspiration and creativity.

What the Heck is a Prompt?

A prompt is an idea or jumping off point for creating new work. Its purpose is to get the creative juices flowing and open you to new directions that may prove very fertile. A prompt may inspire, challenge, delight or motivate, or all of the above.

Many artists share that their best work often comes from prompts given by others.

Using prompts is a great way to:

  1. Move past artist’s block and get started creating anything.
  2. Get inspired.
  3. Expand your creative possibilities.
  4. Discover new tools.
  5. Create new work that may surprise you.

A New Idea for You Today

Master of Disguises book coverI have been reading poet Charles Simic’s recent book, Master of Disguises. Simic is a Pulitzer-Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate. Despite that, I don’t really love his writing, though I can appreciate its artistry. It’s just not my style. In fact, it’s about as far from my style as you can get. And that’s one reason he can be a good source for me to learn from, a good master to copy.

Here’s the prompt I created for myself from reading one of his poems. First the poem that inspired it.

Scenes of the Old Life

Washing hung from the fire escapes.
Boys threw cats from rooftops. 
War veterans hopped on crutches,
Pitching pennies and smoking reefers.

Writers destined to remain obscure
Wrote late into the night
Using a pencil and the kind of notebook
Their children took to school in the morning.

Outside a club advertising exotic dancing girls,

A man in a crumpled white suit
Staggered with a knife in his heart,
One dark eyebrow raised in surprise.

In winter, rain fell as if it meant to fall forever.

We kept the gas oven lit to warm ourselves,

While mother cried and cried chopping onions

And my one goldfish swam in a pickle jar.
—Charles Simic

Your Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It

Copy Charles Simic’s poem “Scenes of the Old Life” formally as exactly as possible. Here’s how.

  1. Start simply by making a list of strong images that are memories from your childhood. Get a good sized list. Notice how Simic chooses images from his environment and then narrows down to one that is quite personal at the end of the poem.
  2. Choose the strongest of the scenes or images from your list, paring them down to ones that create a cohesive or similar mood throughout the poem, as Simic does.
  3. Make a poem that follows Simic’s form exactly. You may need to choose images/scenes that work best to do this.

To follow his form, your poem will:

  • Be made entirely of striking images/short scenes.
  • Express each image in a short pithy line or a few lines. If you want to completely follow his form, you might use the same number of lines for each of your images or scenes that he does. In Simic’s poem, the first line is one image, the second line another, and the last two lines of the first stanza are a third image. Are they all one scene? That’s for you to decide. The next stanza is clearly one scene.
  • Be a poem of 4 stanzas made of 4 lines each (called a quatrain).
  • Use simple, straight-forward syntax and language, be made of complete grammatical sentences.
  • Contain many “end-stopped” lines (though not all of them), meaning the line ends with a comma or period.
  • Mention the season at some point (as he mentions winter).

Once you’ve created a first draft, feel free to edit, revise or stray from the form in some ways to make the best poem you can.

Translate the Same Prompt to Other Media

modern dancer

photo by Olena Kotyk on Unsplash

If you are not a poet, you can start by making the same list of potent images from your childhood, including one set in a particular season. Then, make a painting, drawing, sculpture, musical piece or dance piece, based on a collection of those “scenes.”

You might make a rule for yourself that you have to use the same number of different scenes or images that he does. Or you might decide you are going to make a painting divided into four equal squares, each with a scene in it, as he has four stanzas in his poem.

If you feel stumped, start small. Give yourself the assignment to make a 1-minute dance piece or to do a 10-minute sketch based on one particularly striking scene. If you don’t make representational art, make something that conjures the images or feelings evoked by the list of scenes.

The idea is to stretch yourself and see what you learn and discover.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

 

 

P.S. Please share this post with friends who might be inspired to create new work, using the share buttons below!

P.P.S. To learn more about poet Charles Simic and read more of his poems online, click here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/charles-simic

Great Artists Steal or How to Learn from the Masters

Great Artists Steal or How to Learn from the Masters

T.S. Eliot famously wrote, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

What did Eliot mean by this seemingly outrageous assertion? He wasn’t talking about plagiarism, which would be directly quoting or copying exactly another artist’s work. What he was talking about is recognizing great ideas, great techniques, great tools and making them your own.

When you borrow something, it doesn’t belong to you. When you steal, it becomes yours, a part of your unique artistic style.

How To Steal and Make It Your Own

  • You observe closely. Take note of exactly what the artist is doing that makes their work so powerful and effective. What is the shape and weight of the line? How do they create that shading effect? Where are the line breaks in the poem? How is metaphor used? What is the structure of the musical piece? What is unusual about the harmony, the melody? Most of all, what is it you like so much about it?
  • Man playing piano

    by Francisco Gomes on Unsplash

    You start by copying. Many student artists are given the assignment to reproduce a great work of art. Many musicians learn to play note-for-note the solos that great performers improvised. This is phenomenal training. If you can pull it off, as closely as possible, you will learn an enormous amount about how to make a great work of art.

    And, significantly, you will learn it in your body. As your hand attempts to create the exact curve and delicacy of line of a Michelangelo sketch, your body engages in deep learning about beauty, art and drawing. When you learn something in your body, as opposed to just consuming information in your mind, you truly learn it. It becomes a part of you.

  • You adapt what you love to your own art. Once you’ve learned the techniques and embodied them, you return to your own voice and aesthetic, your unique expression, enriched with a powerful palette. Now, your job is to find exciting, inventive, imaginative ways to use those tools and techniques to express what is uniquely you. Now it is time to be authentic, to say what you need to say, while using what you’ve learned works to make extraordinary art.

    The brilliant editor Shawn Coyne [visit his site Storygrid.com for loads of free, useful information] talks about the importance of including in your writing the “obligatory scenes” and “conventions” of whatever genre you are writing in. He stresses that a story won’t “work” for readers without these scenes and conventions. For instance, the thriller genre must include a scene of the “hero at the mercy of the villain.” And yet, he adds, the challenge and the art is to create those obligatory scenes and satisfy those conventions of the genre in new and surprising ways.

Learn By Copying

I once typed up all of Salinger’s masterful short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” so I could feel what it took to write a great short story. I learned so much about how the story was made, even though I had read it many times before. For example, I was surprised to discover how much of the story is dialogue.

I got the idea to type Salinger’s story from the great Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. Bartok copied by hand all of Beethoven’s string quartets before writing one of his own, so he knew what it would feel like to write a great quartet. Time-consuming, painstaking work. The result:  He wrote six magnificent string quartets of his own that sound nothing like Beethoven.

When You Need Inspiration, Look Around You

Artist at desk

by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

As a graphic designer, when I needed a great idea for a new client or project, I would start by looking at other designs—on book covers, coffee cans, posters—and also in nature and all around me. I would look for colors, shapes, ideas that jumped out at me. And I would steal: That use of layout, those wonderful colors, that arrow highlighting an important element.

Sometimes I practiced reproducing a layout exactly, so I could learn how to do it. I’d often have to discover new uses of tools on my computer.

But my designs were my own. I stole elements and great ideas from other designers, but not whole designs. In this way, I expanded my palette as a designer and didn’t get stuck in ruts.

I often practice writing poems and stories, modeling the style, voice and/or exact forms of other poets. This is a way of apprenticing myself to them and getting new ideas, new possibilities.

My students worry that if they do this, they will sound too much like some other writer. My feeling is that you would be very fortunate indeed if you manage to create something truly reminiscent of some famous writer. In the process, you will be becoming a better writer. And then, you can use that knowledge to sound more like yourself. 

Become an Apprentice

If you want to be great, study the masters. Artists apprentice themselves to great artists in order to learn, to grow, to study their art and craft. David Levine wrote about this, “Shakespeare routinely stole plotlines and even whole scenes from other writers for his own plays.” Remember, stealing means making it your own, not just direct imitation.

Austin Kleon wrote a wonderfully inspiring, helpful, wise and fun book that leaps off from this idea of theft as being important to the creation of art. His book is called Steal Like An Artist. I recommend it highly.

What artist will you commit to studying in depth and stealing from today?

In my next post, I’ll give you a specific “stealing” assignment, a creative prompt based on the work of another artist, for you to use as a jumping off place. Stay tuned!

Creativity Is Your Birthright

Creativity is not something we have to stress and strain after, contort ourselves into shapes over, feel terrible about, measure and fail.

Creativity is our birthright, our blood. It flows through us and all things, giving them life and growth, drawing forth unique expression, blossoming, beauty, gifts.

flower bud

photo by Pascal Chanel

Consider the Flowers

Just look at a flower, bursting from seed through soil, pushing past pebbles that must seem like boulders to the tiny, vulnerable sprout. Courageous, determined, seeking the light, it perseveres through darkness and difficulty, with no guarantee of success, to break through into opened ground.

Gulping in light, drinking water and nutrients through its roots, the flower grows into its unique, implacable form—giving color, beauty, fragrance to all who happen by. Not needing affirmation, assurance. Not comparing itself with other flowers, nor with trees, birds, rocks. Happy to give its gift openly to those who will receive it. Not forcing itself on anyone. Happy to allow them to make of that gift what they will.

The flower doesn’t feel guilty or undeserving of its plot of ground, the water it thirstily drinks, the sunlight it absorbs. It doesn’t worry that it is taking too much. It takes just what it needs and no more. It doesn’t question the value of its blossoms, if they are beautiful enough, if they matter. It gives what it came here to give, what is within its power to give.

The flower doesn’t try to be something else, more or other. It doesn’t strain. It perseveres and grows toward what it loves. It doesn’t hide its beauty, nor hide from the light. It has no need to.

Creativity is Life Force Energy

Creativity is the life force energy flowing through us. It is “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower” as Dylan Thomas wrote. [Read the poem here: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/force-through-green-fuse-drives-flower]

Creativity is unstoppable, unless we put up blocks within, paving over the rich soil in which we are meant to grow. And those blocks to our creativity only have as much power as we choose to give them.

You Have a Choice

We are at choice in our lives, in ourselves.

Do you feed the false beliefs, the perceived limitations and lack, the bad habits, and the wounded self?

Or do you feed the power of the Life that flows abundantly through you and all things?

Do you nourish healthy habits and positive self-belief? Or do you dwell in your past, your fears or seeming failings?

Do you grow like the flower steadily toward your heart’s dreams? Or do you allow every pebble and root to stop you cold?

Do you nurture the Essential Self—radiant, infinite, powerful, knowing—or do you wallow in old wounds and helplessness?

It’s up to you.

You Can Do It

poppies

by Skitter Photo on Unsplash

Yes, it takes perseverance, practice, repetition, faith and patience. Yes, it takes courage and support. We are not meant to go it alone.

And you can do it. You can be the unique flower you came here to be. You can let your creativity flow unabated and unabashed. You can blossom and let us see your beauty.

To your blossoming,

Maxima

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