Stop Pretending Art Is Hard

I’ve had an eventful few days which have involved, as a friend poetically put it, “sailing on the tequila river” (I also apparently refused to kick Madonna in the teeth, which I have no memory of but which I stand by even if my sober rationale is a little less profoundly confusing). They also involved dumping myself and my friend on the carpet at my flat so that we could, in her words, “listen to all the sad music in the world, drink cider, and cry”. I am thirty.

In an attempt to reinstate the mood somewhere north of suicidal, my friend (a Finnish scientist/engineer/all round genius, and one of the nicest and most enthusiastically nerdy people you could hope to meet) introduced me to Amanda Palmer’s Ukulele Anthem which I’d never listened to all the way through before.

Aside from being very effective at making us both stop sobbing pathetically into an Ikea rug, because it is very upbeat and catchy and funny, this song did a good number in reminding me that I want to talk about Art. Not the way I’ve been talking about Art in that I Swear I’ll Finish It Eventually 100 Things blog post series, but from the perspective of making art happen.

I do a  lot of furtling around with various things because I am not blessed with an enormous attention span and the world is so full of interest things I want to try my hand at that I will die not having attempted most of them: some of them, like music, I am very bad at. I cannot play a single instrument despite valiant attempts at the bass guitar and piano; my singing is enthusiastic rather than melodious. I still occasionally launch myself at a number of music-creation programs in order to do something discordant and horrifying. I’m no good at it, but I enjoy the process of making it, and I enjoy the fact that at the end, though I haven’t got a perfect piece of work I can show someone, I have made a thing where there was no thing before. Even if everyone wishes I hadn’t made that thing.

Doing things because you enjoy doing them, if you do it for long enough, makes you better at them. This is especially true if you get bored of doing them to the same level and want to make them better or bigger or different, and start looking for how other people do those things, so that you can take away what you need of how they do them. Not everything other people do to make themselves better at the thing you do will help, sometimes the way they do it won’t be the way you do it.

Because there are a lot of tutorial posts on the internet to help people improve at their chosen craft it becomes hard to separate “I do this thing because I enjoy it” from “a lot of work goes into a discipline before someone can become really good at it”; there’s confusion, and people become angry being told “you must practice every day and try out every single way of learning how to be better at this in order to be perfect” when they really just want to make lopsided but satisfying clay models of their favourite My Little Pony characters.

Surprisingly for, well, anything, a lot of truisms about creation are actually uttered on the internet:

  • You have to practice a lot at shit to be good at it. A lot. Like almost every single day. For a really long time.
  • If you’re going to spend that much time working on something it should be something you enjoy. Do it because you love it and it makes you happy overall, not because you think you should become good at it.
  • Sucking at something is the first step to getting good at it.
  • You do not have to be perfect.
  • The methods that work for some people may not work for you; it is up to you to try them out until you find the things that work and occasionally after that keep trying new things. Just in case.

The things that get lost in the struggle to get people to accept one important fact are often important themselves.

Art is not hard, and you can and should do things you are bad at because you enjoy them, not to become good at them.

Being good at art is fucking hard, and takes a really long time. But if you love it, the fact that it’s fucking hard won’t put you off.

For my own part, music falls under “I like making it but don’t care to become good at it”, visual arts come under “I know ways of getting the results I want but rarely enjoy it, so I never practice enough to become good”, jewellery comes under “I am better at it than I was and I enjoy making it so I keep getting better”, and writing is “I have been doing this for a very long time because I enjoy it, I want to get better at it, and the fact that I love it and want to get better at it means that I don’t find trying to get better such a hardship”.  There are people for whom everything is “I love it and want to be brilliant at it” and there are people for whom everything is “it’s fun but I don’t care if I’m never any good”.

And that’s the third point:

Both are okay.

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