Painting is my hobby. My inner artist is primarily a writer, but I love to paint too. I often have a running script in my mind that says, “You should paint more. You should paint more!” This script is not helpful.
First, let’s talk about that magic word “should.”
SHOULD you paint more? Write more? Sleep more? Play with more puppies?
It’s not imperative to my physical health; I will not drop dead if I do not paint. And while I know that painting (or reading, sketching, writing poetry, any of my creative outlets) would be emotionally, spiritually, and mentally fulfilling and offer improved work-life-play-rest balance, the “should” turns off that desire. It creates the opposite effect.
Because “should” is often someone else’s expectation or definition of success. “Should” is a tool of comparison, perfectionism, and hustle.
I think I should paint more because deep down, I think “serious painters paint more often than I do.” That’s where the should comes from. Or “I should paint more to make my creative expression worth my time” because I believe that only hobbies I have time for on a regular basis are worth pulling out the supplies for.
You deserve to be creative right now, right here, without earning it or getting permission.
What Makes Art Worthy?
I have a couple of paintings that I think are really really good. I have some that I think are pretty good. I have some that are basically doodles but they make me happy anyway. And I have some that I actively dislike.
Part of having a creative practice is allowing yourself to practice.
And practice is going to mean that you tried a new technique and thought it really sucked. This is allowed. This is how art works, how talent develops. You can’t create mastery after a couple of YouTube videos. You have to get messy and let it be bad first!
Why are we unwilling to practice?
Financial cost of supplies and materials. Environmental cost of throwing things away if you make mistakes and can’t salvage a canvas or clay pot or whatever you’re making. Energetic cost of working hard on a project and having it fall short of your vision.
We internalize expectations and “overnight success” stories from the media and hold ourselves to standards we can’t see the entirety of. This makes us feel like we’re doing it wrong. That our art is uniquely bad and wasteful. That our ideas are simply not the ones that get made.
I recall when Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” first became popular and people criticized it because they didn’t get it. They’d ask, ‘Well, does my can opener spark joy?’ and other sarcastic distractions from the fact that Kondo acknowledges that sometimes the ‘joy’ being sparked is the joy of having clean underwear to wear or a meal to eat. You likely won’t shriek with joy every time you put on a gray sock. But you can be happy to have socks.
Her perspective on gifts set me so free: Maybe the joy was in the act of giving. If you no longer enjoy an item you received as a gift, you can cut ties with it and send it onward on its journey. The joy already happened. The gift already fulfilled its purpose.
I think this way about when art doesn’t go the way we plan. Maybe the joy was in the practice, in the reconnection, in the familiarity of yourself with the dance between canvas and brush.
It can’t all be your best work.
And that’s something to celebrate.
My “best work” when it comes to my paintings are ideas that I have for months or even years before the canvas and brushes even come out. I think about these paintings for such a long time that I only start working on them when I can see how they’ll come to life. But even then I still find that I need to practice beforehand or even during the process to get it just right. And sometimes the vision doesn’t come through and it turns out I was practicing. That’s okay.
Not everything has to be monetized, productive, or even “good” to be worthy and important. In fact, making “bad” art is pretty much the only way to ever make good art. If you can detach from the end result and enjoy the experience while you practice and develop your talents and passions, you’re already ahead of the game.
PS. I do this all day!
Want to work with me on getting out of your own head? I coach people to stop freaking out and thinking they need to be perfect or never do anything at all. Let’s have a free connection call to talk about your goals and creative ideas.