Your art is not just what you make, but also how you make it.


About a year and a half ago, I started working on a book. I wanted to explain how I made things.

At first I thought this was just an exercise for myself — I wanted to be able to understand my own creative process so that I could make better things. But as I got going, I realized this might be useful to others.

For years I’d been keeping track of random thoughts in dozens of Field Notes notebooks. Then two summers ago — the summer our first child Ruby was born (that's us working on the book) — I poured through stacks of these banged-up beauties to uncover my process.

The book went from a humble eBook to a full-fledged paperback. Now, I’ve just finished a second, revised edition, and through the process I’m relearning some of the lessons I shared in the book.

Lesson 1: Your art is not just what you make, but also how you make it

I’m beginning to realize that art-making, and all creativity for that matter, has much more to do with how the creator makes something than it does with what she creates.

I used to think being an artist was about making art — shows, films, events — but now I’m learning that being a good artist is really about being a better human.

So I must ask: “What are you really making?”

If you make songs, are you making good music at home?

If you make photos, are you reflecting as much light as your camera?

If you make books, are you telling a good story with your life?

Art is not just what we make. It’s who we are. [click to tweet]

Lesson 2: The best works of art are the ones that don’t set out to prove a point, but tell a story

Most of us don’t create in vacuums. We want what we make to have impact.

We all have a message we want heard. We may even, in fact, have a point we want to make. But unfortunately, points don’t resonate.

Ever seen a Powerpoint presentation that blew your mind? Neither have I. Points don’t make an impact; only stories can do that.

Salesman prove points, artists tell stories. Which one are you?  [click to tweet]

Lesson 3: Find what moves you deeply and work from there

In his book Now and Then, Fredrick Buechner references something Robert Frost used to say about his novels. Frost would speak of this “lump in the throat,” as the beginning of all his work. He knew if he could locate the thing that moved him, that thing — if worked over in the proper way — would move his audience.

Often, we try to work the other way around — asking the wrong questions, making the wrong assumptions:

“What does our audience want?”

“So we have 30-50 year olds coming tonight, what should we do?”

“I really think they need to hear this…”

These aren’t bad questions or statements. It’s just that if what you’re making doesn’t resonate with you, it probably won’t resonate with someone else. We can’t move others to tears until we’re moved ourselves.

To put it succinctly:

The best ideas must move your before they can move someone else.  [click to tweet]

So my friend, what are you really creating? OR, in the coming year what will you create? Tell us below.


*The preceding was a guest post I recently wrote for Jeff Goins and his site - a must read blog.

comments powered by Disqus