Advice for the Frustrated Artist

Frida Kahlo in a hospital bed, painting on her body cast

Being an artist of any kind can be incredibly frustrating. Throughout the course of my own art-making, I’ve faced relentless self doubt and contempt, the constant stigmatizing comments from non-artists, spending hours or weeks on something only to have it not turn out how I planned, lacking the supplies and resources I need to create what I have in mind, and so on. Luckily, with the right mindset and outlook, anyone can grow as an artist and work past these difficulties. I’ll always believe it’s possible for anyone to be an artist, even despite not having the typical support, environment, or with the use of traditional techniques. These are some things I personally keep in mind when struggling with art, and urge others to remember as well.

1. The best art you will ever make will come from yourself.
It’s easy to look at another artist or piece of art and to wish that you made it, or to even attempt to make it again yourself. However, the deeper you look into yourself and your own world, the better your art will be. Examine your life, the stories you have, what interests you; use it to your advantage and make something only you can make. As the cliche writer’s advice goes, “write (or in this case, create) what you know.” If a work of art came from the artist themselves, then it’s impossible for it to be made any better; only that artist knew the full context, had the vision. You have unique, remarkable stories and messages that need to be heard, and only you can present them. If something’s already done, let it be. Or find a way to twist, pull, and upgrade it into something of your own. If you’re absolutely in love with something, try to find what it is specifically you like about it. If it’s a visual piece, could it be the colors, the pose of a model, a certain location or element involved? Does it remind you of bittersweet memories or make you think of surreal nightmares? If it’s music, is there a certain instrument you’re attracted to, or a style of vocals? There will be a variety of artists that influence us, and we can figure out exactly how and why we feel so connected and compelled by them, and then allow it to help us better understand our own stories and sharpen our ideas.

2. Don’t rush style.
Finding and developing your own style can take a lifetime. Practicing whenever you can and making anything you desire is the fastest and most efficient way to get there. Experimenting is necessary to grow and find out what you like. It may feel safe to find one medium or technique you’re decent at and to continue doing that same thing, but you’re not going to improve or learn anything new. My favorite artists are those who seem to almost create their own art form by developing something so original and personal it just can’t be reproduced. If you’d like to have a unique style and have others distinguish your work among many others, decide what particular feelings you want the viewer to have while seeing your art. What aspects or details you want to catch their attention, what themes and messages you want them to learn. and incorporate them into your work as often as possible.

3. Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time (to put it bluntly).
The only way to get where you want is to keep creating and keep practicing. Dwelling on the thought that you’re not “as good” as someone else is taking away the time you’ll actually need to get there. On the other hand, comparison can be valuable. Learning to turn envy and dissatisfaction into inspiration and encouragement to set new goals for yourself is definitely useful. If you’re capable of feeling or experiencing something totally engaging and beautiful while viewing a piece of art, you’re capable of producing it yourself. What you feel and think when looking at something is already inside you. It’s a product of yourself, that piece simply aiding it to the surface and bringing it to your attention.

4. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
We all go through dull periods where nothing seems inspiring and ideas or a desired result won’t come. But maybe, we just need to do some extra work. Everything and anything has the ability to ignite something extraordinary. Force yourself to create something based off a certain song or the view from your window, or an old neighbor you had. Pick items in your current room, or old kindergarten drawings, or the garbage bag of newspapers you never recycled, and make something out of them. There’s always something to create, even if it’s not particularly exciting or if you’re not even sure what it is you’re making. Sometimes you may not have the preferred materials you had in mind, and that’s okay. Surprisingly, limitations can be what produce the best work. They can become a characteristic of your personal style, and at the very least demand the most creative thinking.

5. Make sure whatever you’re thinking of making, you’re doing it for yourself.
It can be tempting to make something just to have it posted on social media or to show someone you want to impress. But if you’re not creating it because you’re personally passionate about it and want/need it to take real form, it’s ultimately not going to be as worthwhile or rewarding as it would have been otherwise. Sometimes it’s a good idea to take a break from social media or hold off on immediately sharing what you’ve done. This could mean not posting recent creations for awhile, or not viewing a lot of work by others. Test yourself and see if you’re just as excited about what you’re creating when you’re unable to see like counts and reactions. If it’s not nearly as exciting, maybe work on developing ideas more-- look further into yourself and the art world to find what truly inspires you.

6. Take in as much art as you can.
Go to exhibits, read more books, go to a new band’s show. It’s important to know what’s going on in the art scene and what has been done, as well as having decent knowledge on a variety of techniques and all the different forms art can take. Learning and seeing as much as you can will offer new ideas, better understanding of what you may already know, and people to meet along the way who could provide more opportunities for yourself.

Remember that anything you choose to create is valid. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or justification for your ideas, style, or anything you produce. You’re doing fine, you’re going to do fine, and everything you end up making along the way is worthwhile. No matter the outcome, it will at least help you grow, learn more, and discover what does and doesn’t work for you. It’s impossible to fail as each “failed” piece has something to teach you and is part of the larger journey as an artist.

text: lexi malavet
visual: complex
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