Step 5: Remember—No One Else Can Create Your Art
Each artist I spoke to offered advice with a common theme: when feeling discouraged, keep in mind that your creative pursuits have inherent value, regardless of how they compare to the work—or even the genius—of others.
Studying the artistry of colleagues or great masters of your field can deepen your knowledge of your craft. But sometimes this can also sap the motivation to develop your own creative voice.
Combining tradition and innovation in your work can help you avoid this pitfall. In Constance Doyle’s experience, for example, an over-rehearsed ballet—with choreography recreated by numerous dance companies over several generations—can begin to look “stale” to audience members.
“We guard against that by intentionally continuing to discover new interpretations and motivations behind the steps,” she says. For Constance, perfecting a dance “is always a daily process and never a destination.”
Hannah Field balances imitation and innovation by learning from top artists in her chosen medium, then using this knowledge to make her own films. When starting an independent project, she chooses short films she admires and studies how each handles a particular aspect of stop motion work.
Hannah then focuses on improving this skill in her new film, while cutting herself some slack elsewhere. “For a film I made a couple of years ago,” she says, “I acknowledged I wasn’t really good at cinematography—lighting the set. But I didn’t worry about it too much. I really wanted to focus on the story.” This technique has helped Hannah retain her excitement about filmmaking, while deepening her professional understanding of the process.
Mark Beaver notes that it’s also important to avoid judging your current work by past accomplishments. “I feel creative frustration when I don’t think my work is measuring up to the standard that I have achieved in the past,” he says. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been able to catch lightning in a bottle, but now I’m unable to access that same creative mindset.”
In this situation, however, Mark reminds himself, “The point isn’t to reproduce that same magic. The point is to conjure new magic for this new stage of my life and this new project.”
Margaret Sanders echoes this sentiment: “Learn from others, read good books, study the masters, but do not try to become them,” she says. “Let them teach you how to produce the art that comes from your own perspective and is uniquely your own.”
She then leaves me with a favorite quotation from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets:
Last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice
Let that voice be yours.
This article is the fifth of a 5-step series of artist interviews, dedicated to helping you find your artistic groove. Get the rest of the steps here.