The power of creating art only recently entered my mind, as it is something I seemed to unlearn at some point in my development. We are all born with an innate ability and desire to create art. We are drawn to painting, coloring, smashing clay or play-dough. Even as infants we are fascinated by the disordered patterns we have the power to create with a bowl of pureed peas and applesauce. We sing, dance, play our instruments and build cities out of Legos. All this is wonderful art we create, and at some point most of us just stop. At some point we start consuming passive entertainment instead of creating, and this is a mistake.
When I was young I remember loving to draw, write crazy stories and design games that I never ended up playing. At some point I stopped. I can’t even pinpoint the reasons or exactly when, but one day I woke up in the middle third of life and wondered what happened. Work, video games, television, weekend shopping trips to Costco – all these things seemed to crowd out my former creative pursuits.
It’s like that little artist kid in me just got up and left one day, and I never saw him leave. Did he leave voluntarily? Out of boredom? Maybe I gave him no good reason to stay.
One day a few years ago, I looked at my guitar I picked up in college, collecting dust and horribly out of tune. I felt guilty in a way. I had moved it from house to house, taking with me the idea of art – self-deception in full force. Someday I would start playing…
I had been repeating this mantra for 10 years now. Maybe I needed a little of my own advice.
I did pick up that guitar and start playing that night. I went online and watched dozens of YouTube videos. It was frustrating. My hands hurt. I was pissed off every time a song had an F chord. Eventually, over the course of a few weeks, I got to the point where I could figure out a few chord progressions. I started just playing a few simple repetitive chords and meandered. It became my art, my meditation, although I didn’t call it this at first.
From there I decided that the coolest online videos were the ones where people were singing while playing guitar. It has been said the guitar is meant to be sung through and I agree. Now to put this in context, I was so self-conscious about singing I just refused to participate most of the time. I was the Milli Vanilli of birthday parties, just kind of mouthing the words to Happy Birthday.
I took some ill-fated voice lessons which didn’t really make me all that great of a singer, but it showed me how to use my brain in ways I never considered. It took me so far out of my comfort zone it hurt. It taught me how different our minds work and how something intuitive and easy for one person can be an almost impossible task for another. It taught me humility. It showed me how to become less self- conscious and how to face fear. It taught me respect for a talent I could never quite wrap my head around.
Most importantly though, it taught me that we all need to be practicing art. We thrive when we force the mind to work in a different way. Just like meditation, it is mental exercise. It builds a sense of purpose and fulfillment. When I am in the flow of singing, playing guitar or piano, or hashing out a draft to a blog post, I am in a different mental place. It feels good to be there – sometimes. Other times it is a struggle. It is similar to playing a sport, or an activity like running or swimming, but also very different. Other parts of the brain are engaged.
I think we forget that life is art and vice versa. Often times we blast through life optimizing everything and enjoying nothing. We get the perfect house, relationship, job, dog and cappuccino maker – yet it can feel surprisingly empty at times. I’ve met a lot of people who seem to have everything on the outside, but are in pain on the inside, longing for something more.They are missing art.
“I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was close to being complete.”
For others their life is their art. Their career is their canvas and they create through that. This is the best of all worlds, but ultimately not reality for many. If this is you, congratulations, take your victory lap. If you are in the silent desperate majority, start by creating a little art in your life.
I will give you an easy way to start. I did this, and it was effective.
Start taking pictures of interesting or beautiful things you find in the world with your phone. It will force you to start paying attention. You will see things in a new way. Colors, lighting, and shadows will start to enter your consciousness in a different way. This can be a 30 second a day hobby.
I started throwing a picture or two each day on Instagram, mainly to keep myself focused on the habit of creating art. It keeps me accountable.
I don’t know if it is good or bad art, but that is the wrong question to ask. It doesn’t matter if no one sees or appreciates your art. Your art is for you, to help your mind expand creatively.
Do this for a few weeks and see how it changes you. Or maybe try something like this:
Try going back to something you loved as a kid. It will be awkward and painful at first, but keep with it until you get into the artistic flow. It may come back to you immediately, or maybe not for months, but you will know when you get there.
When you do come back and tell me about it.