Updated: Feb 25, 2019
In this 5-part series (released over five weeks) I will be sharing what I believe are some of the most important qualities in being an effective artist. I will then invite you to participate in an exercise related to each post and offer you some thoughtful questions (and maybe even some resources) to help you on your way. Let's get started!
TIP 1 - BE HONEST
Benjamin Franklin once said, "honesty is the best policy" and I couldn't agree more, especially when it comes to making art. The degree to which art is honest, for me, runs parallel to the degree to which it is effective, and that should matter to anyone who feels they have something to say.
The best art has substance, even when its substance is emptiness. But substance doesn't dependably come from being careless, irresponsible, or clumsy with your ideas. Everything we do as artists must come from a place of honest exploration or belief, followed by some kind of intentional output of those ideas, emotions, or derivative experiences.
If you are going to the trouble of getting out your paints or clay or typewriter or whatever, please don’t hold back on delivering truth. People are choking on clickbait, starving for nourishment.
Now let's try an exercise!
EXERCISE: GETTING NAKED
Think about some things you have been dishonest about, either with yourself or with others. They don’t have to be huge things, like a big family secret (though they certainly can be). I find that I learn lots just by examining the little ways in which I am dishonest. And remember, being honest is as much about being honest with yourself as with others.
Try to come up with a list of between 3 and 5 moments of dishonesty that you can use as a focal point for the following questions, then answer them for yourself as honestly as possible. When finished, use your answers as “handles" to grab onto, then try and explore how you might make some positive changes.
DO NOT beat up on yourself if your answers aren’t what you wish that they were. The purpose of this exercise is to give you something to work with. Part of being honest is being willing to face the fear head-on. That can be uncomfortable when you wind up uncovering shame, guilt, and other tricky emotions. You should expect that self-improvement must necessarily come paired with a healthy sense of self-critique, so try not to get surprised or too emotional when that happens. You should be expecting it.
1 - If you had to rate your art on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “Not at all” and 10 being “Too Much Information”), how honest would you say you are when you create? How does your answer make you feel? Are you where you wish to be? If not, how might you start moving in that direction?
2 - Explore your reasons for the dishonesty. Are you scared of something? Are you protecting something? Underlying motivations can sometimes reveal unexpected struggles that you didn't even know you were having.
TIP: I have often found that reflexive or reactionary fears (automated fear-responses which seem to exist for no real reason that I can think of) belong to a much older part of my experience that may need some attention. I use this second line of questioning for context clues about what is driving me. As such, I have done an enormous amount of healing by simply tracing my unconscious beliefs back to their source.
3 - What are some practical things you can you do to begin practicing honesty more fully?
by Sam Harris
Publisher: Four Elephants Press
This lovely little essay on the merits of never lying (never, ever) takes a hard line against even the smallest of lies, those so-called "little white lies."
Think it's ok to lie?
Sam Harris doesn't.
And he makes a pretty good case for why.
by Brené Brown
If you're scared to be honest, don't worry, you aren't alone! Of course, everything from Brené Brown is worth owning, but if you want to start somewhere, this is one of my favorites and gets right to the heart of what it means to be honest with ourselves and others.
How about you? What do you think? Is your experience with honesty in art different or similar? How did you feel after answering the questions? Can you recommend other resources?
Please, add add your voice to the mix! Just remember, keep it respectful and kind. And, of course, I reserve the right to prune any unwanted comments.
And here are the links to the other parts of this series (as they become available):