Make Something

They tell young people “You can do anything you want. The World is your Oyster.”

I think they have it backward. I think maybe *we* are the oyster and the world is the grain of sand that makes us produce the pearl of whatever we create over the course of a lifetime. For some it’s science. For some, it’s taking care of others, or policy, or what have you. For me, it’s art. My response to the world and events around me is to write stories and draw pictures to try to make sense of it all. For me, it’s art. And I’m asked frequently to give advice to artists just starting out.

My advice to young artists is simple: make something. Take it all the way to completion – finish it! You learn much more from finishing something than you do from the entire rest of the project combined. So you have to finish.

And although you may have sentimental attraction to your early work, you will come to despise it, because as you get better, you lament the flaws. But it’s OK. Make your mistakes. Put them out there for the world to see and learn from. Learn from them yourself. In this way, everyone gets better.

Don’t just talk about what you want to do. I don’t know what it means to be an artist that doesn’t create. You learn how to dance by dancing, how to write by writing, how to draw by drawing. And by the way, being an artist has nothing to do with what you do for a living. Yes, some people work in the arts. Some people don’t. But artists create all the time. Artists are always thinking, ideas are always percolating. There’s no such thing as a part-time artist.

Art happens internally first, in the soul, in the mind. It manifests externally afterward, as marks on canvas, or movements in the dancer’s body, or as words that make up a story. That artifact is a record of the artist’s decisions, a record of the artist’s point in personal artistic technical growth. But the true artistic act happens inside first.

When you embark on a creative project, people will congratulate you. They’ll make a big deal and tell you that Starting is the Hardest Part! That’s because to people who have never created anything, just beginning is a Herculean task! And they want to encourage you. You’ve started!

Sadly, starting is relatively easy. The middle of a project, that’s where it gets hard, so hard that it can make you quit. And finishing? That’s hardest of all. The end of a project, where you have to commit to your decisions and things aren’t so malleable and forgiving anymore, and all your compromises are about to be written in concrete. That’s the part that can break you.

Anyone who has released a creative project – no matter how amateurish or ill-conceived – should be commended, because just finishing is so very hard. They say no work of art is ever completed, only abandoned. Imagine how hard it is, then, to abandon them, call them done and invite the scrutiny of others. It takes bravery. It takes nerves of steel.

That’s why I don’t rag on the creations of others. I know how hard it is. I am, however, brutally harsh on myself. I would not wish that on anyone else, so my next advice is this:

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Create. And have fun.

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