Over the years, I’ve come to believe that any artist at some point will face five challenges to their growth. I think we each face these challenges when they come up in different ways and they shape us as improvisors or poets or painters or singers. I think in general, we will be introduced to these challenges in roughly the same order I’ve written them here, but they’re not chicken pox. You won’t face them once and never see them again. If we truly want to grow in our art, we will evolve and face many of these challenges over and over again. But that’s a good thing, because as difficult as these challenges can be, we always come out stronger.
1. Time and money
This is the easiest of the challenges. When you make that choice that you want to create something, you need to make the commitment that you’re going to do it. Find the time to practice the violin. Go to the store and buy that paint. If you really care about what you’re doing, this won’t slow you down at all. If you can’t even find the time to commit an hour to what you want to create, maybe you don’t really want to do it.
2. Creating something wonderful in spite of something horrible
This comes in so many forms. There are so many reasons to get frustrated and abandon your work. The something horrible can be the state of the world, the environment you’re in or your own personal tragedies and doubts. Sometimes, it feels hopeless to try to create art in times of sadness or anger in the world, but that’s when art is needed the most. Remind yourself and those around you that humanity can create beautiful things too. Be the flower that survives the battlefield.
Sometimes, the unpleasantness isn’t on a global level but simply in the moment you choose to create. Sometimes, art isn’t welcome. When you’re getting ready to do a stand up set and the audience has decided they hate you before you step on stage, step on the stage anyway and do it. Don’t sacrifice what you were going to do to beg for their approval. Do what you came to do. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. But don’t let them take away the fact that you like it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re creating isn’t valid.
But hardest of all is to create something beautiful when your hurting and broken inside. It’s really hard to sing a happy song when you’re sad and alone. But sing that song and believe it. You’re a master, you have the gift to create that wonderful thing. If you’re in a horrible place, what better time is there to find something wonderful from inside you?
3. Creating with too many constraints
No matter what you do, you’re going to be asked to shape or mold your work for someone else. Artwork is commissioned. Shows are asked to be family friendly. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon what is great about your work. It’s very easy to be a purist who will never sacrifice your “vision” and it’s very easy to abandon your ideas to get a quick buck. But it’s much harder to bring what you love about your work to someone else on their turf. Don’t be closed minded to new ideas, but never give up the integrity of what you do. Don’t view the restrictions on your art as obstacles, but as opportunities to express yourself in new ways.
4. Creating with too few constraints
When you find success as an artist, you will find the earlier challenges less and less frequently and you’ll discover it was those challenges that motivated you. Rage needs a Machine. When the world accepts your vision, there is little motivation to share it. And worse, you can start believing in the myth of yourself. You get lazy. You no longer wake up in the morning with a fire under you. You’ve been given the wonderful gift of a talent and the ability to use it. Never take that for granted. When you find yourself complacent, find new challenges to grow. You can always grow.
5. Seeing what you’ve created and accepting it
This is far and away the hardest challenge each of us face. You’re an artist. You have the power in you to create something, and you have. Let it be. It is very hard to create something and look at it and appreciate what it is we’ve created and move on. Never step off stage and say “I suck”. We’re our own biggest critic. That is not to say that everything is perfect or that we shouldn’t always be looking for ways to improve ourselves. But that thing you just created? It is what it is. To fret over what could be changed is looking backwards and you’re going to miss the next amazing thing that happens. You’ve created it. It’s good. Other people will see it and have their own opinions. And that is fine. Be proud that you created it.