What Are You Willing to Give Up for Your Art?

What sacrifice are you willing to accept for your art to move forward? It’s a matter of hours in the day. In order to invest in what you create, something has to give.

Louise Nevelson was an American sculptor known for her massive wooden wall pieces. In order to manage these colossal sculptures, she used her bathtub for storage. Food was also not high on the list of necessities. She would sup on a can of sardines and a bit of tea. She took a similar route as Einstein in terms of dress:

“I wear cotton clothes so that I can sleep in them or I can work in them—I don’t want to waste time.…”

Midcentury photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White would often skip eating lunch. When asked about this, she said that while writing her book “there was no hope of a lunch for several years.”

I’m not advocating we give up personal hygiene or skip meals. The idea of the ever-popular starving artist is a trope.

In his book Laugh, Kookaburra, David Sedaris has a friend tell him about an oven meant to symbolize your life. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The idea behind this mental construct is that in order to be successful one must turn off two of the burners.

There is some truth to this (I explored this idea before). Artists need to art. With limited time, we all must sacrifice something. Here are some more overlooked sacrifices we can make in order to thrive as an artist.

Don’t Wait to Be Inspired

The muse doesn’t follow a set schedule. She won’t clock in when you ask her to. If you wait for inspiration to arrive you’ll end up waiting a long time. These are the people who won’t write or compose unless they “feel” like it. You must toss that notion aside. When it’s time to create your butt must be in that chair or in the studio.

Give Up Trying to Be Perfect

Daedalus attempted to imitate the gods and look where it got him? A plummet to the cold sea. We are humans and that means coming to terms with our limitations. Often this idea of perfection comes out of comparing our creations with other, more established artists. Yet we we fail to see the hours of trying and failing that happened before this point. 

If you keep trying to make that story, song or illustration perfect, you’ll never move on. It will transform into a never-ending project. Accept that it will be one piece in a catalogue of work and move on. 

You Don’t Need People to Like You

As humans we all yearn for the acceptance and praise of others. Instagram, TikTok and Facebook are built on this human desire. The like button (and follower count) are designed to stoke this basic human need. 

But honestly, are you making hotel room art or are you trying to dig deeper? If you are honest about what you do, then not everyone is going to like or appreciate what you create. It’s better that way.

Ask yourself: if what you created would never be seen by anyone else, would you still create it? Would you write, draw or sing if there were no audience? Emily Dickinson only published ten of her 1800 poems. 

Many sites I found on this topic exalted the need to give up on having any sort of relationship or family. Some even advised living poor and falling directly into the starving artist mold.

I say hogwash. The world is filled with artists and creators who have had families and ate decent meals. You don’t have to torture yourself to create. But you might have to change some of the expectations you have about yourself and what you create. 

Tim Kane

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