How to be a process-oriented artist
Are you process or outcome-oriented?
Every now and then, it’s good to remind ourselves of our insignificance. There’s so little we can actually control because there’s something out there, something we’re all part of and bigger than ourselves that has the bird’s eye view. Does this thought destabilise you? Don’t worry. A different attitude towards life and the art-making process can put everything back into balance. At least for a little, precious while …
If you want to overcome artist block, unlock your artistic creativity, or just feel more inspired as an artist, you have to let go of control. Think process, not outcome. That’s a pretty brave choice to make. And it sounds simple enough, but how can you do it? Find my answer below.
Say “Yes” to the present moment and “No” to anticipation
When I first asked myself this question – how to focus on the creative process, not the end result – I didn’t have an obvious answer. It felt discouraging to me. In spite of that, I made a choice: to learn the art of surrender through the exploration of possibilities that the process of making art could offer me. I sticked to my choice like glue until I broke through the wall of resistance and control.
But I wouldn’t have taken this decision, and I wouldn’t have kept with it without the contribution of a little hero – my daughter. She gave me the kick that drove me on.
This is the story of her relationship with music – an important life lesson for any artist.
My daughter started playing piano at an early age because it fascinated her. When she played piano at home or in front of her teacher, she played it with much joy. When friends or other members of the family were around, she suddenly blocked. Her hands played the scores mechanically with lots of hesitations and mistakes. The magic vanished.
What sparked her joy when playing or simply improvising on piano in her comfort zone (which is not always a bad thing, by the way)? And what killed that joy when she played music in front of an audience she wasn’t used to?
In the first case, she played piano with no end in mind. With no anticipation or expectation whatsoever. She simply enjoyed the present moment.
In the second case, a disturbing performance anxiety creeped in. Because she thought of the end result. She anticipated both the outcome and the judgmental reaction of her audience.
As soon as she understood that music is not a performance, a brilliant result, or something outside herself that she is expected to deliver to a group of highly critical and hostile strangers, her mind relaxed.
My daughter understood that music is a gift for people, which can only come from a place of wonder and curiosity for the magic of sounds and the instrument that makes them. And, like any gift, it can only be a heartfelt, generous, authentic token of love. And an expression of one’s inner Self. Just like drawing, painting, or any other forms of art.
Performance anxiety is a false fear. The fear of a ghost. Anticipation is absurd, for “you can’t tell the night from the early morning”, can you? Therefore, I urge you to stop the mental cinema (we call it “Kopfkino” in German). Say “No” to anticipation.
Making art with the end in mind, in fact doing anything against a clear, concrete result with the will to secure the best possible outcome are the enemies of creativity, possibility, and life itself. Remember: art always follows life and the course of change. Because art is transformation and its trajectory unpredictable. Art has no road map, but it thrives in uncertainty.
Say “yes” to life, creative action, and the present moment.
Wish for your road to be a long one
The American artist, writer, and teacher of art, Elaine de Kooning hit the nail on the head when she said that art is first and foremost a process.
“A painting to me is primarily a verb, not a noun, an event first and only secondarily an image.”
Art is a journey full of adventure, excitement, knowledge, sweat, passion, hard work, sadness, beauty, and lots more … Don’t hurry it up, but take your time instead.
There’s no one who could have better expressed the nature of this journey than one of my favourite poets, Constantine Cavafy, in the poem “Ithaka”. Here are the first verses:
"As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body."
You can read the entire poem here if you’d like.
Do not think of your art in terms of images or final products meant to be critically judged (by yourself or others). Change perspective. Art is a happening, an ongoing process, a verb bursting with creative energy, not a noun that labels classes of things or puts words and concepts into categories.
“By giving me a name, a label, you negate all the other things I could possibly be.” (Søren Kirkegaard)
The truth is that art escapes precise formulations, ultimate answers, and flat solutions.
There is no separation between you, your creative process, and its outcome
Let your creative vision be a dynamic one. Let it fly, for it knows itself how. Just let yourself be led. No more pressure and expectations! Think instead of your art as a process of self-exploration and self-expression.
Once you realise that your art-making process is not a means to an end (e.g., a final product, an exhibition, or a critical acclaim), but a genuine expression of yourself, you’ll be free. And artist block will have no reason to pop up again because there will be no food, like false fear, or delusion, to chew on.
"When you start painting, it is somewhat outside you. At the conclusion, you seem to move inside the painting." (Fernando Botero)
By believing that you, your art-making process, and its outcome are three separate entities, you draw limits. Like an invisible wall between your creative energy and the infinite possibilities that the process of making art opens up. You dig a deep rift within yourself. But if your self-expression is authentic and true, you’ve got nothing to fear because it will always touch many hearts.
You, your creative process, and your works of art are one.
So, the fact of thinking of the result of your work and focusing on the outcome inhibits your creative mind and sets dangerous limits on your freedom of expression. Therefore, you should unlearn to think of the outcome and learn instead to be mindful. To focus your attention on your creative process, which does not end up with you, but continues in the eyes, the imagination, and the hearts of the receivers of your art. And then it goes back to you, like in a repeating circle.
You just need to remind yourself of who you truly are.
This is a time of fundamental change throughout the world. And a huge chance for artists like you to ride the wave of change. Because, as an artist, you love the idea of transformation, don’t you?
If you’d like to learn the art of surrender and focus entirely on your art-making process, then you may want to read these blog posts:
Tell me, what are you working on right now?
Thank you for reading till the end.
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Recognise your pointlessness, and keep creating!
From Germany with love,