FACT 186 – how to ART

thoughts, i have them. in this particular instance, i have them on creativity, and the Myth of Art. perhaps more specifically, the Myth of Creating Art. several comments on the twitters recently have regurgitated this idea that if you want to become an Artist, be it a graphic artist, a comic book artist, a writer, a whatever, you should simply do that thing. you want to become a writer? great, Write! voila! you want to become a sketch artist? awesome, Sketch! perfect, doesn’t it feel great to be an Artist!?

but as some/all/most/none of us know, it’s not that simple. writing is an important part of being a writer, it is the very definition of the word. sketching is vital to becoming a sketch artist. no one, least of all you, should be calling you a comic artist if you have not produced any comics. in short, you cannot become The Person w/out doing The Thing. BUT it is not the only part of becoming The Person, and i am here today to suggest that, when asked how you become The Person, perhaps the best advice is not, “hey, do The Thing.”

for one, it makes you sound flippant and egotistical. “Hey, I did The Thing, so why don’t you stop bugging me with your questions and just get to it.” great, i’d love to, but i’m already having enough of a problem simply “get to it”-ing that i’ve worked up the courage to bug some randomly famous internet person that i no doubt admire and value the opinion of for advice, so how about we take into account that this answer is so simple that i may indeed have thought of it already.

secondly, it’s insincere. no artist simply woke up one day and said, “I think I’ll ART today,” and then went off and ARTed in some beatific form and won a great prize and lots of dollars for doing so. every artist spends days and nights and sometimes longer on the “god i suck” spectrum, and indeed many/most artists i know of, everyone who’s ever given an interview on the subject and many who haven’t, has revealed that they spend a lot of their lives on this spectrum. even the great Neil Gaiman revealed in a NaNoWriMo pep talk of yore (perhaps the second-greatest pep talk of all time (that’s right, Lemony Snicket is my hero)) that he regularly calls up his agent to reveal to them that he is a fraud and can no longer ART and should just go off to become a greengrocer. it is never as simple as sitting down at the desk/typewriter/pen/brush/insert-medium-of-your-choice-here and ARTing, and to suggest otherwise is to willfully ignore all of the hard work that goes into actually forcing oneself to sit down and do The Thing.

yes, it’s true. in order to become The Person, you do need to sit down and do The Thing. but doing The Thing is not always easy. there is a well known adage in the writing world that you will write at least a million words of crap before producing even a single word that is worth reading. some people say it’s your height in 8.5 x 11 inch single spaced crap, some have other measuring devices, but the point is, you will suck, and quite hard, before you become good, and even then, it’s anybody’s guess whether you’re actually good or not. the real kicker is that during this time, you will gradually become aware of how much you suck, and it will eventually dawn on you that you may well suck for the rest of your born days. at that point, you may wish to stop ARTing, and many people do. but the trick to writing, to ARTing, if there is a trick, is to accept this suckage as fact and then ignore the hell out of it. just because you suck is no reason to stop. after all, Neil Gaiman was convinced at some point in every novel he’s ever written that he sucked, and that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from producing some pretty good novels.

now, there are other problems with ARTing: time constraints, financial constraints, one (or more) of the several billion constraints that Real Life seems to delight in vomiting upon the path we are trying to tread here, thank you very much, and i will say for the record that “Do The Thing” is terrible advice in these situations, too. if you want to paint, but you don’t have money to buy paints, telling you to paint is not only unhelpful, it is also discouraging. the implication here being that if only you loved ARTing enough, you would find the money, or the time, or the whatever, and the fact that you apparently can’t means that you don’t love ARTing enough. sucks to be you, but stop bothering me with your questions.

unfortunately, the real answer here is to get more money, or time, or whatever, and this is a) not something people want to hear, b) not something people want to say, and c) not always possible. you may have to accept that becoming The Person is not within your reach right now.

but that doesn’t mean you should give up. i want to become a translator, and i’m learning Japanese, as i have been for apparently half my life now GOD I AM OLD and there have been times when i put the textbooks down, perhaps for good. lord yes, there have been. there was once a nine month stretch when i didn’t so much as look at a Japanese character because i was so frustrated with it. but i went back, because i’m helplessly in love with this damn language, and in the years since then, i’ve progressed further than i could have ever imagined during those nine months of frustration. but did i know that during those nine months? definitely not. i felt like a complete failure. i had been stuying for several years at that point, and for what? to simply frazzle out and give up? well, yeah, that’s what i thought at the time. looking back, it’s easy to see i had simply hit that plateau where you’re better than “beginner” but not quite as good as “intermediate,” which turns out to be a Recognized Milestone of Language Learning, but that was not a visible fact when i was standing inside the milestone.

so maybe you can’t paint right now, maybe you can’t afford it. maybe you find writing so frustrating that you can’t even imagine picking up a pencil or opening your laptop, but maybe that’s not the disaster you think it is. perhaps you, too, are on the post-beginner/pre-intermediate plateau. or perhaps you are one of the millions of people who will keep their ARTing as a personal hobby. that’s fine. i once ran an online bookbindery, and had (still have) grand plans to open a real, bricks and morter shop, where i can sell real blank journals to real people, but it seems to have become a hobby now, practiced only occassionally, for the benefits of friends and family, rather than the Entire Internet. and if you think about the odds, for every one person who becomes a Super Famous Artist, there must be thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, who don’t make it to that point, and we don’t go around thinking that all those people are completely worthless “could have beens.” no, we think they’re our co-workers, and our friends, and our family, and we see that they have other valuable traits. but maybe, just maybe, you will be that one in a million person who can make it, who can stride/walk/crawl/wriggle/whatever-it-bloody-takes-to-get-there across that plateau and become The Person.

but if you give up now, you’ll never know.

although, you should know that there’s another plateau after that, and probably one after that, too. the good news is, they look a lot like the first one, so they’re easier to spot.

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