How to make more personal art

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I know I’ve struggled with making personal art, a lot of people do. With social media there is a precedent to make lots of personal art. You can feel bogged down by the pressure to create. I also think we want to make this kind of art. You might be unfulfilled or unchallenged at work. You might want to make the work that is personal, important and vulnerable. This is also the hardest work to make.

Our brain works against us and fear prevents us from making this work. There’s a useful book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The struggle of the artist isn’t between making bad and good art, it’s about overcoming the resistance to make art all together. The hard part about making personal art is getting off the couch, turning off Netflix, and sitting at the desk. It’s so much easier not to do the work you want to do, we fight ourselves every step of the way. Not that it isn’t important to relax and take time off. It’s that making art is important, making your own art is important. If you want to make personal art, or art outside of work you need to overcome this resistance.

The artists that you admire, who seem to create endless amounts of ‘personal’ work, really have overcome the resistance. They have good habits that they rely on to make art consistently. For most of us when we get the chance to draw, the work we create doesn’t match what we expected. It can ruin the good intentions we had. We find ourselves convinced we were better off watching more TV. This is of course untrue, we are better off making art. If that is what we set out to do. You must lower your expectations and realize how much strength it takes to make something in the first place. Set up simple and easy to achieve goals, like making one bad drawing. Often making the bad drawing is what’s required to get to the good drawing. We could all do to deliberately make more bad drawings. If all you have in you is a bad drawing, say to yourself, “Good enough” pack up your stuff and try again tomorrow. The important part is to come back again and again.

The problem with personal art is that it’s often us talking to ourselves. The danger of making work for the internet is that it can feel like making work for everyone. Art that we make speaks to what we’re thinking or how we’re feeling. When we talk with ourselves it rarely works that well. Austin Kleon has a talk about the habits for making things. My favourite point is “Making Gifts”. It’s the idea that most art and craft starts as an honest and earnest gift. Something we give to someone, not expecting anything in return. I think our art would probably get a lot better with a little selflessness.

Here’s my idea: Find a friend that you trust, make a pact with them to trade art back and forth (maybe everyday, or once a week) then instead of making personal art just for you, make personal art for them. This is useful because there’s the tiny bit of social pressure, this will help you get off the couch. You also make art for a specific audience of one. Your friend likes your work not because it’s good but because it’s yours. They will also give you feedback because they want to see you grow. I like this idea because it is personal and generous. The process is learning how to enjoy the process of making your art, so you can apply it to all the work you make.

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