On Not Making Art

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

After talking to some artists who haven’t started producing anything yet, I wanted to write this post for those of you who are stuck. I’m going to tell you a secret. You already know why you’re not writing or drawing or painting or making music or whatever your flavor of art is. You really, really do. Discipline is required, but to sit down and actually make art? There’s a reason why you’re not doing it, and you know what that is. If you don’t, you’re having a hard time admitting that horrifying and terrible truth to yourself.

Often, the reason why you’re not making art is grounded in what you’re feeling. Most of the time, it’s because you’re afraid. I’m not talking fire-and-brimstone fear, I’m talking about the kind of skepticism, anxiety, and existential dread that evolves out of knowing what you want to do, picturing it clear in your mind, and not being able to draw/paint/write like you do in your head. Consider these types of artists:

    SCENARIO A: THIS SHOULD BE EASIER THAN IT ACTUALLY IS – Some artists feel inept, broken, disconnected. So, they run to the bookstore or visit websites where they’re promised “the secret of…” and a hundred tips to hone and perfect their art–all things they are grateful to learn, of course–and they sit back down apply tips here and there expecting their unformed work will match their imagined masterpiece. They bought the secret, after all. Only, their finished work doesn’t match their vision no matter how hard they try. They feel defeated, they set their art aside, and rinse/repeat at a later date.

    SCENARIO B: I SUCK, BECAUSE I KNOW WHAT I CAN’T DO – Other artists are so painfully aware of what they don’t know, and they constantly berate themselves for it. They might even know a bunch of artists, and hang with them hoping some of their talent will rub off. They try as time allows, but have so little confidence in the process of learning how to make the art they want they never finish what they’re working on. Unfocused and lost, they flip to many different mediums or constantly change what it is they want to do.

    SCENARIO C: EVERYTHING I DO IS FINISHED AND READY TO SELL – Some artists either don’t care about what they don’t know or doesn’t care about what they can’t/shouldn’t do. As soon as their work is finished, they offer it for sale or for public review. Friends, family, reviewers, and folks within a community of artists like this could be encouraging them to publish or share the art before its ready, because they think they’re helping and it feels good. But, because nothing is held back these artists are not protecting the work they do, and their ability to improve is hampered. It’s exactly the opposite: they’re sharing it at every stage and use other people’s opinions as a guide instead of trusting that learning is a process we all go through.

There are many, many different scenarios of artists like these who are trying to connect what they want to do, with what they think they’re doing, and what they actually know how to do. Most of us make up our careers as we go along, because there are many things outside of our control. A career happens, however, after artists have the ability to continually produce art to sell. When you’re just starting out, you’re not there quite yet–and that’s okay. That’s normal. The vehicle of commercialism, social media, and other means of sharing, selling, and getting feedback on your art exacerbates feelings and adds an extra layer of fuckery and/or angst as well. Only, selling and promoting your art is a process, and it’s not the same process required to make it.

Again, I want to reinforce that you know why you’re not making art, and that reason is usually connected to your emotions. Do your circumstances affect your ability to make art? Absolutely, and I’m not writing this post to diminish your situation because only you know what that is. Discipline is what has helped me to work past my own issues, and it’s part of making art. That discipline came from the years I practiced and performed as a musician, and it’s something I applied to writing and jewelry making. It’s not the same process as selling your art, revising it, reviewing it, promoting it, etc. but it’s the most crucial–because there is no secret to becoming an artist. First, you have to get in the habit of making art before you can do anything else.

If you don’t know how to make art you want to make, be kind to yourself. Give yourself the time and the ability to learn. Make mistakes. Study. Ask questions. By all means, take risks and screw up–but do it on your terms. Without that piece, without the crucial processes and methods you internalize by making art and finishing what you’ve started, then all you’re left with is hopes and dreams which, if you’re not careful, can leave you bitter. You’re also not alone, however, and I hope that this post encourages you to face up to your feelings, push past them, and start making art because it’s what you really want to do.

To My Fellow Artists and Our Fans

It’s been an emotional past couple of days, and I know there’s a long struggle for human rights ahead of us. As an artist, I don’t know what my role in this mess will be. I know some people believe that being an artist isn’t a crucial or worthy calling, that giving some relief or challenging the way people thought or playing games was not as important as heading issues straight on. All we are, are stories. Every article you read is a story. Every TV show you watch is a story. We intellectually distinguish fact from fiction, but not if that fiction sounds like fact. Stories are important–now more than ever–and they gave me a reason to live when I needed it the most.

The gaming industry, for all our issues, is part of my family, and people I’ve met in SF&F over the past few years are becoming that as well. Now, more than ever, artists of all stripes need each other. Our world may be divided, but we do not have to spread a message of hate. We are the story-makers, and we have that power. It’s time to saddle up, and bring some hope back that is badly, sorely needed. Who’s with me?

I posted a list on Twitter of ways to help your fellow artists, and here’s a summary of what I said:

Many freelancers like myself are worried about health insurance changes. There are a couple of ways to help. They are:

1) Write/share reviews: Many sites employ algorithms that use this as a metric, and reviews influence word-of-mouth sales as well.

2) Support disaster relief funds like The Hero Initiative and the RPG Creators Relief Fund

3) Support artists by talking about what you love, and not only what you “hate”. Yes, issues need to be called out–but so does the good.

4) Drop a thank you or letter of encouragement to your favorite artist. I cannot stress how important that will be and is right now.

5) Support diversity/inclusion by supporting better representation. Buy, read, and recommend books by authors affected. Directly helps!

6) When you see an artist attempting to say something positive as a means of fighting back against the negativity, RT them. It *matters*.

7) Keep in mind some artists won’t share their political views, not b/c they don’t care–but b/c they care TOO much. Have to protect hearts.

And lastly 8) Many of us have a Patreon, Etsy, Kickstarter, etc. We’d appreciate a signal boost even if you can’t afford it. Thank you!

Monica Valentinelli >

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