Identify your artistic vision to direct your creative flow
It’s week two of this four-week workshop focusing on getting your creativity flowing. Last week we cleared the physical and mental space necessary to allow your creativity to flow and flourish. Now it’s time to gain clarity about your artistic vision and set an achievable goal. This will mean that your creativity will be flowing in a worthy direction in line with your values.
This week’s challenge to kick-start your creativity:
Identify a creative goal in line with your overall
‘Tis the season for goal-setting, but forget flimsy resolutions that just focus on short-term outcomes. Let’s get to work on long-term goals, in order to project our future successes, and keep them in the forefront of our minds throughout 2017. Here are six steps that will help you set long-term creative goals, and measure your achievements.
1.i Brainstorm on a large-scale
Cozy up in a fresh workspace, and let your mind run forward and backwards in time, envisioning yourself in the future, and picturing what your past-self would have liked to see in their future. Sometimes I wonder if 12-year-old-me would be pleased with who I’ve become, and I think of how I can be the person my past-self idolized. Tap into your relaxed mind and scribble down anything you’d like to achieve, from lifestyle choices to personal successes, and get deep inside the picture of yourself you’ve created. Maybe you see yourself at the opening of your first solo exhibition at a local gallery, or at your own book launch, or graduating with a Master’s of Fine Arts, or traveling the world working remotely. Maybe you can picture what you’re wearing, or who you’re standing beside. Maybe it’s an elaborate fancy affair or just an afternoon in a cramped studio space. Maybe your successes are non-monetary and non-material—you see yourself finally vocalizing or materializing that idea you’ve always wanted to express. When you determine how this future-self looks or feels—satisfied, impassioned, content—you’ll probably see someone who is able to create with ease, rigor, and confidence.
2. Gain Clarity
Take a step back and identify the threshold between what you idealize in your mind, and what’s feasible for you right now. Notice if you’re comparing yourself to others, or aiming to achieve society’s definition of success rather than your own internal aspirations.
Vincent Van Gogh took a similar step back, saying, “Occasionally, in times of worry, I’ve longed to be stylish, but on second thought I say no–just let me be myself–and express rough, yet true things with rough workmanship.”
As artists we often experience this push-and-pull between being an artist and craftsperson. Sometimes you’ll take commissions and feel like you’re simply a technician, and sometimes you act on your own accord and create free of society’s expectations. This tug-of-war is what creates the perfect balance between technique and creativity, between regimented skill and inventive style. Draw a line in the sand between what you will and won’t do—the sacrifices you will and won’t make—in order to gain clarity and determine your boundaries.
The best part about setting goals is that it allows you to burrow into your own consciousness, your own dreams, your own thoughts, without being distracted by comparing yourself to others. Center yourself, gain clarity, and make sure you’re aspiring to a healthy standard that’s right for you in this moment.
3. Identify your Artistic Vision
With this newfound sense of clarity, determine the values that form the backbone of your artistic practice. If you haven’t revisited an artist’s statement you wrote years ago, it’s time to dust it off and—after cringing at your word choice—identify the key values that have changed and those that remain constant.
Brainstorm what is important to you. If you’re new to this, your creative goal may be simply to have fun. You may want to try using art as a form of play, self-expression, or even for therapeutic purposes. Perhaps you are interested in beauty, in creating pieces for your home or gifts for loved ones. Maybe you want to write your first short story. Keep it simple and, above all, make sure it rings true to you. Your artistic vision can be a short sentence or statement of intention that you can keep coming back to, which will remind you of why kick-starting your creativity is important in the first place. Feel free to skip Step 4 and move onto Step 5.
If you’re an artist or creative professional, this is a chance to reconnect with the deeper purpose or ideals that lie behind your practice, such as social critique or a formal consideration.
4. Revisit Your Artist’s Statement
Often times artists have difficulty writing an Artist’s Statement because they find it difficult to sum up the complex web of meaning behind the artworks they’ve created. Try writing your artist’s statement at the beginning of your next creative era, so that it acts like a personal manifesto and anchors you to your core values. As a personal exercise, try summing up your artistic practice in 140 characters or less—the length of a tweet. We all know your artistic vision is more complex than this, but it will help you gain clarity and perspective. It could be anything, for example:
I critique Western capitalism by working with store-bought items, and juxtaposing them sculpturally with similar salvaged items.
Through film I explore light and space on a cosmic scale, drawing parallels between molecular structures of matter on earth and in space.
I deconstruct traditional standards of female domesticity by creating textiles woven with found objects.
Of course it’s important to remain flexible, allowing our perceptions of our artistic practices to adapt as we actually make work. Henri Matisse famously advised artists to conceive of an artwork while creating rather than beforehand, saying, “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” Yes, sometimes you just need to start creating in order to get focused, but for the sake of goal-setting it’s valuable to simplify your vision into a manageable statement, because this will make it easier to establish feasible first steps.
5. Make Actionable Goals
Looking at your simplified artistic vision, and find the easiest first steps that you can check off your list. If you’re a craftsperson, painter, sculptor, or artist whose practice involves raw materials, make a point of sourcing your materials first so they act as visual reminders for you. By setting a goal that is reliant on your raw materials (do x with y), your impulse to create will be kick-started when you encounter that plaster, that plywood, or those paints. If you’re a writer, filmmaker, theater practitioner, or curator, perhaps you have initial emails to write, or upcoming meetings to arrange, or calls for submissions to post. By taking these first steps, colleagues and artists will boomerang back to you with responses and creative collaboration will be set in motion. Make sure your short-term goals are bite-sized enough that they’re manageable on an everyday basis, and that they’re feasible enough to be measurable.
6. Make a Commitment
In addition to your bite-sized goals, set some mid-scale goals that reflect your long-term ambitions, and commit to them. Set soft and hard deadlines for yourself, being ambitious with your first soft deadline, while leaving a cushion of time before your hard deadline. Take into account your capacities and your weaknesses—if you’re not a morning person, be honest with yourself and don’t make commitments you can’t keep. Try balancing “professional” creative goals (finishing a painting every two weeks) with “leisurely” creative goals (read poetry/fiction that is relevant to your practice every Sunday afternoon). This will help you stay constantly attached to your vision, inspired, and ultimately you’ll start to lead a holistically creative lifestyle, and you’ll stop seeing creative work as labor.
7. Celebrate Success!
When you start to cross things off your list, find ways to reward yourself that compliment your creative practice and keep you moving forward. Treat yourself to a cocktail alone at your favorite bar, in order to lay out your upcoming projects. Take an entire morning to stay in bed, sleeping in, meditating, and journaling. Active, creative rest is a crucial part of your creative process, and although it may seem like you’re inhibiting your creative flow by unplugging and taking a break from your studio, you’ll return with a new sense of urgency and perspective.