How To Reach Your Next (Tiny) New Frontier

image: dan james

When we’re looking to evolve as artists – as we all must – it’s easy to get drawn into the idea that the next phase or level of your progression must be –

1. Vast in scale and transformation.
2. Instantaneous.

With these two ridiculously unrealistic expectations draped across our shoulders like a horse’s corpse, it’s not difficult to see why we shy away from even attempting to making this kind of leap, and instead stick to the safe, tired and tested formulaic work we know so well.

Or, worse still, we give up creating altogether, feeling that because we have no hope of ever meeting these two criteria, why bother attempting any new art whatsoever, however familiar?

Sometimes it does feel that we have huge overnight breakthroughs in what and how we’re creating.

And if you follow the work of other artists, it probably seems like they did/do too.

But it only feels like that.

What actually happens is that the breakthroughs come as part of a steady, cumulative effort.

Like a tap, dripping at a rate of a mere droplet of water every 10 seconds. If you held out your open palms beneath it, you’re not going to be blasted with the force of a fireman’s hose.

But if you placed a glass beneath it, left the tap dripping, and returned a day later, that glass would be overflowing with water.

How might a dripping tap translate to your artwork?

Writing a page a day?

Taking a photograph or two every day?

Spending 10 minutes a day on your latest canvas?

In addition to patience and consistency, another element that’s essential when we’re seeking this continued personal evolution in our work is to accept all outcomes.

In other words, do not expect everything you create to be a masterpiece, or even any good at all.

Photographer Ansel Adams always felt that if he created 12 “significant works” in a whole year, it could be considered a fruitful year.

This is a man who took tens, if not hundreds of thousands of photographs in his lifetime. He was happy with an average of just one significant artwork each month.

And that was just an average – some months he might not create anything he felt was significant. But he kept making photographs.

How might that kind of outlook change the way you create, and your expectations of your artwork?

What if you saw everything you created not only in terms of what you had at the end of it, but also in terms of the investment in (and enjoyment of) your creativity that took place during its creation?

Plus, it’s more likely that the “mistakes” and the “bad” art we make during creating teach us far more than when everything goes swimmingly anyway.

Let’s recap.

Expecting a huge, overnight transformation in your work is unrealistic and can only end in one way – disappointment, misery and quite possibly a virtual retirement from art making for you. Maybe this is exactly where you are as you’re reading this right now.

To overcome this, instead focus on creating consistently (a little each day can form virtually indestructible creative habits) and accepting that not everything you make will be incredible. Maybe only a tiny proportion will be.

And, let yourself enjoy and learn from everything you create, not just the significant works.

Because it’s the willingness to keep stepping up and creating that will inevitably lead you to the next new frontier in your work. And the next beyond that.

So that in six months, a year, three years, five years, you’ll look back across your body of work and see a series of peaks, peering out majestically above the clouds.

Beneath the cloud level is everything else that contributed to you slowly and steadily making, and ascending, those peaks. All the showing up and the work and the mistakes and the devotion you don’t take in account when expecting those epic overnight breakthroughs.

In fact, your next tiny new frontier will come the very next time you take up your pen, brush, or camera.

You’re showing up, you’re creating, you’re evolving.

Enjoy it, embrace it, and we’ll ascend ever upwards.


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