Growing as an artist isn’t a science. It’s… well, it’s an art. But I’ve still found there’s a certain rhythm and pattern to developing artistic talent, and I’d like to outline that for you. I see six steps in growing as an artist.
The first stage of growing as an artist is simply experiencing what art is out there. All art stimulates the soul and inspires the heart, making it easier to create art. But if you want to move into a field of art, start browsing through that field and seeing all the different flowers that grow there. Find what you like, what you don’t like, and get an idea of what’s already been done, what works well, and what hasn’t been done yet.
The next stage is to take pieces of art you really like, and experience them over and over again until your inner fan starts to get bored and quiet down so that your inner critic can speak. The critic’s job is to break down the piece, examine it, and see how it fits into the whole. Pay attention to what you liked and try to figure out how the artist accomplished that. Figure out what you didn’t like and why it didn’t work, and then try to guess at what the work would have looked like had that part been done differently. Ask what could have been done differently and how that would have changed the piece. Look at it every which way until you’ve learned as much as you can.
The next step is trying to recreate the piece on your own. Creating your own original art is difficult. Like learning to ride a bike without training wheels, there’s so much going on that you have to keep track of all at once. So the first step in creating something is to copy what someone else did and make a few changes. For writers, this means fanfiction. For songwriters, it might mean reusing the tune but with new lyrics, or adapting someone’s beat but adding a new melody. How you imitate depends on your chosen field of art and what you’re practicing this time, but all artists need to do it, and you can’t become an artist without going and growing through this phase.
As you grow as an artist, your work becomes less and less an attempt to duplicate someone else’s work and more and more the thing that only you could create. You begin incorporating what you’ve experienced, what you love, what you know, and what you believe. Imitation has value for your development, but creation has true meaning. And from that meaning comes value for others as you express beauty that only you can see and truths from your unique experience that no one else quite shares. And that might just be the piece that someone else imitates to help them learn how to grow themselves.
It is not good for man to be alone, especially not artists, because art is a collaborative process. Like a stream flows down a mountain into a river and then into the ocean, only to evaporate and return and fall again as rain on the mountaintop, so also the artist must display their work to an audience and have it received to strengthen them to create again. This is not optional, and to do otherwise is to become a stagnant pond, a festering swamp. No, you must release your art.
This is not to say everything you create needs to be shown to outsiders. Some pieces are practice. Others are experiments that end up in the recycling bin to be broken down into bits that you’ll incorporate into later projects. Still other works you create are for yourself, where the doctor and the patient are the same and the only one who sees it is God. This is well and good.
But often artists hear God giving them hints as to whom their piece is for. And other times God doesn’t need to say anything; the artist already knows the right audience. Regardless, if God has given you a gift to share with others, it’s on you to put your work out there to be experienced. You, by virtue of being who you are, have a unique experience and perspective. God knows people who need to hear exactly what you have to say the way only you can say it, and He lets nothing go to waste (1 Samuel 3:19). Your art has the potential to change people’s lives. It’s up to you to set it free and let God send it where He will. Some will spread far and wide and others will have a narrow, potent focus. Sometimes, you’ll see the impact your piece had. Usually, you won’t. But it’s not your job to understand. It is only your job to do what you can with what you’ve given. The rest comes down to faith. So whether it’s publishing your work or showing it to a few friends, find a way to present your work to others.
So far I’ve talked about these steps as if they’re sequential; you start with exploring and end with publishing. But you never stop as an artist. God gave us an eternity because anything less would not be enough time to create all the art that needs creating. And so, you never stop going through these steps. Like a juggler mastering his craft, your skill as an artist isn’t measured by which step you’re on but how many of them you can do simultaneously. I can think of many artists I respect who are constantly seeing what’s new in the art world, breaking it down, and trying to mimic it in their own way, even though they’re already making a living from putting their art out into the public sphere. If you have already mastered the arts and have nothing left you can learn, then you can stop going through these steps. Until then, back to it: learn, copy, and grow. There’s art to be done!
Cameron Miller, writer
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash