making art outside your art

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

A necessary aspect of being an artist is, as I talked about in a previous post, a willingness to just be completely terrible at art. But if you've seriously pursued an artistic passion as a career, you are probably an expert. With your main form of art, eventually you get to a place where you know what you're doing and you're in a groove. Maybe at the moment you're in the middle of a big project and it's just a matter of putting the time in. Maybe you're in an editing or a marketing phase. So how can you continue to take risks and find that zone where you can afford to "suck"?

This is where the art outside your art comes in.

Most likely, as a creative person, you already have a secondary art interest. For me, the big one is music--I like learning about music and playing it, but I'm not as disciplined about it, nor do I have as much talent in it, as I am with my writing. I've also, thanks to my previous job and a friend of mine, started to take more of an interest in visual arts like photography and collage.

Exploring other art forms can help supplement your main focus, give you an interdisciplinary boost by providing other terms and concepts for you to apply to your art. They can be a creative outlet during a slump or a difficult slog; they can inspire you by getting you to go outside and look at things in a new way. Or they can just take the pressure off because it really doesn't matter if you succeed at something that isn't your main interest. There's a lot of ways to engage with a secondary art form, but here are some places to start:

1. Art you study

This is often related to your main art form. As a writer, I love watching stand-up. I study the construction of a set, how a joke is created and what made it funny, and I often dig for interviews with comedians about their creative process and how they write. I also study television and movies, because it's an easy, passive way for me to think about story structure and character. This kind of art is really useful to me when I'm stuck on a problem in my work or when I'm between projects. But using "art outside your art" to study with is still done with an eye towards your main form of art, so be cautious that this kind of work doesn't contribute to burnout.

2. Hobby art

Hobby art is just for funsies, but it's probably something you do a lot. It's the kind of art you perform often enough to be something it's worth spending a little cash on. My hobby arts are music and woodworking. I played two instruments in high school and picked a third one up in college, and spent a chunk of change on a guitar, and have never regretted the purchase. And every now and then, in periods of high stress, I'll look for high-quality wood pieces at the Goodwill or a flea market and spend time refinishing them. I refinished my own writing desk. I don't have the kind of patience or dedication to ever be good enough to do these things for money, but I like doing them enough and I do them frequently enough that I've been willing to invest some money into them.

3. Useful art

Useful art is the kind of secondary art that supplements your main art form in some way. Useful art includes things like design, advertising writing, or public speaking. Often it's a skill that requires a bit of creativity. If you want to branch out and boost your marketability while still using your creative side, think about joining a local Toastmasters group or taking a design course at the local community college.

4. Throwaway art

Throwaway art is similar to hobby art except you don't spend enough time on it to be worth sinking major money into it. It's something you're interested in trying, or something you do for free because you're really bad at it, new at it, or don't need fancy equipment to do it. Instagramming, drawing, singing in the car, rearranging furniture, journaling, writing exercises, or other kinds of low-pressure, free art can all fall into the category of throwaway art. I think throwaway art is often the best thing to do to get inspired again, because it can be a one-time thing, and it may be something you've never tried before or no one will ever see.

When you're at a place as an artist where you're burned out, stuck on a project that requires just slogging through it, or just kind of bored, turning to a secondary art form can be a way to maintain the risk-taking artistic-ness of the life you've wanted to create. Inspire yourself, find a new way to look at the art you already do, supplement your skillset, or just have some freakin' fun.

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