You are first and foremost an artist. Say that aloud a few times. We are all artists and the hard part is embracing that. Steven Pressfield says in his wonderful book, The War of Art: “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
It can be difficult to remember that our artistry must be protected and encouraged when we’re trying to grow our careers. The truth is: your artistic life is the core of your professional life. So how can you ignite your artistry? Here are some ways to get your imagination, your heart, and your entire instrument activated:
1. Do something creative every day. Schedule it. The Artist’s Way suggests “artist dates” with yourself. It’s essential to find ways to experience and express your artistry daily. Create a ritual for it. And find time for it, no matter what.
2. Discover your unique voice. You’ve heard and read many times that you’re the only one who can “do you.” What is your idiosyncratic voice, your specific point of view that distinguishes you? In this industry we tend to dull our voice so that we can fit an idea of what a breakdown says, what a billboard flaunts, or what we think “they” want. We become afraid to show ourselves or take risks. We wait for other people to tell us who we are. Consider the opposite. Be willing to share your stunning, distinctive character. From Steven Pressfield’s The Art of War: “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”
3. Have a strong point of view. The artists, the films, TV shows, pieces of work that we all respond to have a powerful and personal point of view. Breaking Bad – my latest obsession – touched a nerve for exactly that reason! You have a clear, strong point of view about a lot in your life; be willing to own it and put it out into the world. It will make all the difference in what you create.
4. Explore ways of self-expression other than acting. Write, produce, direct, take pictures, create music, paint, sculpt, dance, bake, cook, sew, find your artistry in as many ways and places as you can. Your full expression as an artist has more than one avenue. You’ll be amazed by how much talent you will uncover. And how satisfying it can be.
5. Write write write. Write to flow, to get your feelings and ideas out. Write to express yourself. Write to connect. Write to create work. Write in any and all ways. A daily flow, blogs, poetry, stories, scripts, articles… Find your written voice.
6. Go out and seek inspiration, especially on those days when things seem gloomy. It’s likely not going to come find you, and in this business we can find ourselves isolated. You have vivid worlds around you, wherever you live. Whether it’s a trip to the desert, a museum or movie date, an afternoon at the beach with a great book and a journal… find the stimulus that will engage your artistry. Sometimes I like to experience LA as if I were visiting. I take myself to a part of town I don’t frequent, have lunch, go to a gallery, and find a place to write. I come home afterwards galvanized, excited, and fully engaged in my artistry.
7. Be where you’re at. While we encourage ambition and challenge, it’s essential to know where you are. Today, this month, etc. Check in with yourself and be aware of what you need. Maybe it’s a day of staying in bed all day and watching an entire season of Project Runway, a day of pampering yourself, or a rigorous game of basketball. Be in touch with how you feel and take care of yourself. You can push yourself tomorrow. (Just don’t play Xbox and smoke weed all day!)
8. Get off your computer, smartphone, and TV for considerable lengths of time. Move away from distraction and from that which anesthetizes you. Allow yourself to be present. Shut out the noise. Deal with the feelings that come up. As Louis C.K. says: “Because we don’t want that first bit of sad we push it away with like a little phone jerk-off for the food…. and you never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kind of satisfied with your product – and then you die.”
10. Meditate, commit to a yoga practice, find a time and place for quiet reflection. At least 3x week allow yourself to go deeper. Alone, in the quiet. Let your mind wander. Amazing ideas will arise. And you’ll be stimulated to create something. Of course a mediation practice is ideal daily, and has it’s own custom. In addition to that, find your zen time.
11. Exercise. Get your body, mind, and soul moving. Remarkable things happen when you engage your instrument fully. Awaken your entire being in some way every day.
12. Be in concert with other artists. Create community. Create together. Whether it’s in your living room with friends, in a class, with a theatre company… Find a way to share your stories and create work. Find a tribe of fellow travelers with whom you can express yourself as an artist on a regular basis. In that, make sure you’re involved with peers who support your work. Avoid what some call “emotional vampires,” people who will suck your you energy and good feeling. Be willing to ask for help, for guidance, mentorship. There are so many people who’re out there for you if you’re willing to reach out.
13. Take part in your larger community. Participate in community service, activities, organizations that matter to you. Get outside of yourself and find meaningful engagement in the world. You’ll be inspired to create on a whole different level.
14. Be willing to try something even if you don’t know how to do it. Buy a camera and become a photographer/cinematographer. Write a short story. Take a martial arts class. Do something that scares you, something that you have no idea how to do. How exciting!
15. Be in the practice of feeling. Know how you feel and allow yourself to feel (something we teach at our studio). Being in touch with how you feel is necessary in order to be fully in your artistry. This doesn’t mean indulge yourself in self-pity or drama. Quite the opposite. This is about being fully present in how you feel so that you can be connected to your full emotional life in a healthy, aware way, something that every artist needs.
16. Find your spiritual connection. You may be religious. You may not be. But you’re connection to something larger than yourself and co-creating with the universe will give sustain your creative life. If you don’t know where to begin in this engagement, do some research. Ask your peers. Start with something that speaks to your heart.
17. Immerse yourself in the work. Understand that it’s sometimes a struggle. Writers, songwriters, painters all go through painful struggles to create a piece of work. Another Steven Pressfield quote: “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
Lady Gaga locks herself in a room at her parents’ home for days to write music. She says it’s her time away from everything to “experience a rebirth of her own music.” (Along with a few bottles of tequila.) Whatever your ritual, it’s glorious when you can embrace the agony of it. It’s a different kind of struggle from the one of chasing success. It’s the struggle of birthing something. It’s essential. It means you’re in it, meeting resistance, and risking the unknown. As Anais Nin wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
18. Be ambitious. Be the person willing to stick to something to the very end. Pick a project that you’re most passionate about and get it done. It might take months, it might take years. It’s those projects that creators have stuck with that produce the great stories of patience, endurance, and success.
19. Visualize creative victory. Not a red carpet fantasy, but the vision of something you can create. A creation that will satisfy you artistically and feeds your soul. Find time to do this daily; it can be daydreaming in the line at the bank, brainstorming in the shower, fantasizing on freeway or the subway etc. Invest in your vision, believe in it. If you don’t, it’s going to be very difficult to find enthusiastic supporters. And even if it feels foolish or unrealistic, start working on a project you can imagine. That’s how Star Wars was born.
20. Be willing to own what you really want. Sometimes we get stuck in old aspirations. I wanted to choreograph for the Broadway stage as a teenager. I was passionate about it. That desire fueled me to create in other ways and over the years my ambitions have evolved, even surprised me. Now writing a book, teaching, coaching, and creating support systems for other artists are new passions. How great to discover new purpose.
21. Know what grounds you creatively. For me it’s always been directing. It’s my artistic touchstone and I know that. With that as my anchor, everything else makes sense.
Begin. Don’t procrastinate. Do it now. And then schedule time for creative exploration every day! Something wonderful will be born. You’ll be happy and fulfilled. And guess what, the industry will find you. Your artist torch will burn bright, fueled by your passion and commitment to create. You’ll be seen and heard. Funny how that works…