The greatness of art depends entirely on the greatness of the artist’s individuality.
At the start of the year, when the evenings seemed impossibly long, I took a class at The Royal Drawing School.
The instructor’s motto was “find the way you do it.”
I didn’t know what she meant by this until halfway through the course.
We were looking over the work we had all created and, let me tell you, the drawings my fellow artists were making were astonishing. The most beautiful and evocative collages rendered in charcoal or ink.
I was overwhelmed with my own amateurishness. I looked down, embarrassed by my little picture stories, which looked silly in comparison.
Sitting with these feelings the next day, I remembered the motto and I had a realisation: Even if I could master charcoal or watercolour like some of these artists, I wouldn’t create the same work as them.
I’d still make the little stories I always had, in the way I was doing — that’s the way I do it!
I was not born to be defined by someone else, but by myself and myself only.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to be more in tune with myself; how to find the way I do it.
It’s hard. I feel very disconnected from my heart, my own way of seeing the world. I’ve spent so long ignoring it, in the youthful desperation to be accepted, I’m even scared my heart has stopped talking to me.
At best, my own voice is quiet and timid; it can’t be heard over the rowdy noise of external influences.
I wish I could have the clarity of vision: “This is who I am and this is what I want to say!” And then go ahead and make that.
It’s hard. As Michael Amherst says: “Our right to define ourselves - as we are, in our infinite variety — as opposed to how others see us — is the fight of our lives.”
For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself.
The question isn’t “what do I want to make?” It is: “what experience do I want to have?”
To make art about something is to spend time with it. It is a process of study and focused attention, feeling for forms and contours.
To paint someone is to think about that person intensely for a prolonged period of time.
To write a book about something is to be obsessed by it for months and years.
These experiences are transformative, and the piece of art is merely a byproduct of this transformation.
Do you see the distinction?
Instead of trying to figure out who you are, or what makes you unique — both hard questions — you ask simply “what is meaningful to me, right now?”
What, or who, do you love? What, or who, are you scared to explore?
“No-one wanted Walt Whitman” said the artist Robert Henri a century ago, “but Walt Whitman wanted himself, and it is well for us that he did.”
Don’t try to be interesting.
And don’t try to be unique.
Put all of your efforts into being you — unashamedly, unequivocally; the purest expression of what is within you — and the rest will take care of itself.
Find the way you do it.
Until another Sunday soon,