Photo: Pastellkreide 1, user Lyzzy (Alice Wiegand), Wikicommons
Fall is just around the corner and, as we rotate into the autumnal schedule, the Smithsonian Associates has a set of fresh interns! As a newbie, I think it’s probably in my best interest to introduce myself so we can get a bearing for one another: my name is Krista Alba, I study Painting/Drawing and Art History at the University of North Texas, and I consider myself very fortunate to be here. I hope we will all be of mutual assistance to one other as I investigate art-related topics.
To kick off the fall season, Smithsonian Studio Arts recently launched a fun new program format called Sip & Sample as a way to encourage potential or seasoned artists to branch out without having to necessarily commit to one course. Sip & Sample allows you to try three different courses taught by a professional artist and experienced faculty member for one night each, all while socializing and drinking wine. Creativity must be calling our members because the debut for Sip & Sample sold out—an encouraging sign that there are people who want to immerse themselves in a new craft or return to a beloved one.
Something I am passionate about is making sure artists have tools to diffuse their creative block. I think we all put aside our desire to explore and relegate our attention to things that seem more pressing, be it scheduling our next doctor’s appointment or binge watching Game of Thrones (I didn’t specify how much more pressing). Though completing tasks like visiting your relatives and doing your taxes is a vital part of the human experience, nourishing yourself independently from your daily responsibilities is dire. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to be your own authentic person.
This being said, I’ve witnessed a degree of negativity from people when trying to accomplish something creative. “I can’t do that,” “I can’t draw anything—I can barely draw a stick figure!” or, my personal favorite, “I’m not a real artist.” These self-deprecating comments are all in good humor, but when we make these statements, we are validating our own fears about being a creative human being, and that somehow we are not good enough or cannot ever be good enough.
"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Pablo Picasso
Every person can be artistic. By definition, if you can create and want to create, you have met this standard criteria. If this is the case, you should devise a plan to channel your interests. To address the most common concerns I hear, I have compiled the top five worries I hear from old and new artists alike, as well as my personal suggestions on how to combat these anxieties:
1. I’m new to this craft and I have no idea what I’m doing.
Tutorials and workshops will be your best friends. If possible, make friends with artists whom you admire and watch them work. Many local arts organizations offer a wide variety of courses and workshops; the Smithsonian Associates have everything from drawing along the C&O Canal to learning how to use a darkroom. If you are interested, you can view the bottom of this blog post for the link to the full catalog.
2. I don’t have good materials and/or I don’t think I can afford good materials.
Some of the best art is made with unconventional materials and processes, and don’t be fooled: you can do a lot with little to nothing. That being said, if there are materials you would like to use that venture into expensive territory, there are many great resources for purchasing slightly used materials, and if you are near a retailer for arts and crafts, keep an eye out for deals and coupons that will allow you to take advantage of the budget you do have. Sometimes buying materials (if you must pay for them) is about building up a collection over time—one dollar here for this pen, a few bucks for a pencil color set, so on and so forth.
One of my favorite unconventional artists is Ai Weiwei. For this sculpture, he re-appropriated antique three-legged stools and molded them together. This is a great example of finding discarded items and utilizing them for your own personal expression. Try thinking outside the box!
Ai Weiwei, Grapes, 2010
Photo: User Pittigrilli, Wikicommons
3. I don’t have any ideas.
Have you ever read a good book and felt the compelling narrative of that writer guide your thoughts for the next few hours? Or have you watched a movie and carried its lingering emotional intensity? Sometimes the best forms of inspiration come from other distinctive and talented artists. Ideas spawn ideas, and a good place to begin is looking at other local artists, artists online (there are many on different social media platforms), or flipping through art resources, such as books or magazines. If you’re looking for intrigue and you’re in the area, feel free to check out our current and upcoming exhibitions.
4. I don’t have time.
This issue is by far the trickiest to combat. Scheduling time for yourself in the midst of chaos can seem improbable. There are many ways to problem-solve in this instance, but the best solution will be determined by you and ultimately only you. I will say, however, that carrying around portable items which you can implement at any time and in small bursts is a good way to cope with a busy schedule. If you are interested in drawing or recording potential ideas, I would suggest carrying around a small sketchbook and some utensils. There are even such things as portable watercolor kits and watercolor sketchbooks. This is an excellent way to keep yourself creatively alert and to allow yourself to capture your inspiration at a moment’s notice (much like how writers carry around small notebooks and pens).
I also recommend finding an optimal time that you get into your “zone” and try to schedule something around your happy hour(s). Every artist has a time where work comes more naturally for them. A lot of famous writers woke up at the crack of dawn because it felt more natural to write right after emerging from sleep, e.g. Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway typically woke up at 6 A.M to suss out their masterpieces.
5. I’m afraid to fail.
Failure happens to be the root of many concerns. I am here to tell you that failure is a relative concept. When you try, are you really failing as opposed to someone who refuses to try on the basis that they are afraid to fail? Is there truly such a thing as “bad” when your personal intuition leads you to create? When you’re feeling paralyzed, the best thing to do is to is to push through it and take your creations one step at a time.
Make a mark. Then make a secondary mark. Think of each mark you make as one individual task, but allow yourself to be happy and free in that one mark (or whatever you are doing-- stitching, weaving, molding, etc.). Before you know it you will be done. Whether or not you are adequately satisfied with the result, you will have accomplished what you sought to do in the first place, and to top it off you will have allowed yourself to be happy and free during the process. And keep in mind: no one work is perfect on the first attempt. Many great artists make multiple works before they make “the one.” This being said, an effort made in jubilation is better than any attempt fraught with anxiety.
I hope this post was helpful in some capacity. On a final note, if you missed the opportunity to sign up for Sip & Sample, I highly encourage you to keep an eye on our Studio Arts page for upcoming events. We’re working on another Sip & Sample trio for January and some new, interesting events in the early spring!
If you have any ideas, questions, or feedback—for instance, if there is something you want to learn about in particular—please leave a suggestion in the comment section!