“Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.”
I was talking to a good friend recently who’s been working on a magazine with some friends. He was talking about how great it is to see things progress and publish their first issue, but that it could be difficult collaborating with others who don’t have the same passion for the idea.
He was wondering out loud a bit about whether it was a helpful thing for him to do while he’s looking for full-time employment (he’s an extremely talented designer).
One thing that stuck out to me was that he mentioned enjoying the magazine project because there were no superiors to approve his designs. No deadlines given, no clients to please. No timeline forcing him to abandon experimentation.
He’s making art—the kind of art Seth Godin talks about in Linchpin.
Art vs. Itch Scratching
Many great ideas and products are born out of a frustration. The Open Source community has a phrase called “scratching your own itch”, and it’s a great way of putting it. If you wish something existed for yourself (and others), and you can make it happen, it can be a great opportunity to meet the needs of people and markets. Even simply releasing your own code or process to the public can benefit others.
But, that sort of thing still has to have consumers in mind, even if you and people very much like you are the consumers. You’re not solving a problem for anyone if the solution can’t be implemented easily.
It may be significantly “freer”, but it still has outside considerations. It’s not art.
Make Room for Pure Creativity
Sometimes your hobby can be artistic, but it often doesn’t cut it. You need time in which you create with no need for approval. Whether anyone other than you ever sees the output is up to you, but it shouldn’t affect your process.
For my friend, it’s a magazine. For myself, it’s recording music.
Maybe you build things, or do crafts, or draw. Maybe you take pictures or create song mashups. Maybe you write short stories or make graphic novels.
It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you’re not doing it for anyone but yourself. That’s the key. If you make art to sell for a living, you still need to have times where you make something with no consideration as to whether it will make you money or not.
This is an underlying reason that the music industry is having a broad identity crisis right now.
There are musicians who are truly making music with no regard to how it will be received. That’s art.
If you’re making music with the intention of growing a fan base, or performing music to entertain crowds: that’s not what I’m talking about. It may be incredibly fun and rewarding, but it’s not art.
So, make time for your own art. Don’t pressure it into helping you get somewhere in your career—that part will take care of itself. Letting your unfettered mind play will teach you new things about yourself and bring you joy.