WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Be Inspired, But Be Yourself

Luann Udell discusses how easy it can be to lose track of our own vision.
Luann Udell discusses how easy it can be to lose track of our own vision.

When we follow someone else’s vision, it’s easy to lose track of our own.

Continuing the series about advice for young artists (and us older ones, too!)

Years ago, before the internet was available to the general public, I met an artist who always did one-of-a-kind work, across a wide variety of media and processes. Each one was distinctive, and beautiful.

We were talking one day about “inspiration”, and I mentioned that sometimes, I paged through books and magazines, looking for new ideas.

They replied that, to the contrary, they drastically limit how much they looked at other people’s art. Since I usually found it enjoyable, and fun, I asked them why.

Their answer has stayed with me for decades.

They did not want to be distracted by someone else’s work. They did not want to “take on” another artist’s artistic “persona”: vision, process, aesthetics, etc. They wanted to focus on their own vision, aesthetic, and process. It was their way of keeping their work unique, faithful to their own style, and not diluting it by trying to imitate someone else’s work.

 I think about this a lot. Especially now, with a world of images available to us daily, wherever we go with our phones, on the internet, on social media, especially apps like Pinterest and Instagram.

It’s fun to search for unusual color palettes and combos. It’s educational to see the different ways people sculpt bears. It’s informative to see the newest trends in jewelry (unfortunately, minimalism is back—ACK!!), the latest gemstone shapes and colors, etc. It’s like browsing through those old JC Penney’s catalogs, seeing all the new designs, colors, styles available. (Er….did I just date myself here??)

I can learn a lot: How to make my own ear wires. Find what new tools I could work with. Exploring better ways to cram more stuff into my space use my studio space more efficiently.

But that artist’s words come back to haunt me when, eventually, I find the work of someone whose style/aesthetics/use of color are simply jaw-droppingly good. And how that sometimes made me feel “less-than”.

 Feeling “less-than” is not good for creative people.

Oh, it’s good to get a grip on our ego from time to time. Yes, there are people whose techniques are better, whose stories may be more powerful, whose skill set puts ours to shame. It can challenge us to mix it up, to improve our own skills, to step outside our comfort zone and experiment a little.

But comparing ourselves to others is usually unpleasant, and self-defeating: “I’ll never be as good as so-and-so!” “That person’s work is really on-trend, why can’t I ever get ‘on-trend’???” “That artist’s landscapes sell like crazy, maybe I should do landscapes, too….” “I’ll never be as famous as so-and-so, so why bother??”

Alas, another dangerous road also lies ahead, one where we consciously or unconsciously try to emulate that art hero, taking on their subject matter, their style, their techniques.

This rarely ends well.

In short, enjoy poking around. Borrow ideas (but don’t copy!) Use the inspiration to broaden your horizons (but value your own aesthetic.) Try something new, learn something new (but only use what makes YOUR work better.) Transform your views of their work into something you can truly call your own.

Look around, be inspired. But stay true to your inner vision, not someone else’s.

When it gets overwhelming, go back to your creative making space, and focus on what works for YOU.

Because you are the only YOU in the world. Honor that, respect it, and make the work that matters to YOU. Trust me, it will speak to someone else, too.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

9 thoughts on “WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Be Inspired, But Be Yourself”

  1. I totally agree with what your artist friend said and I have said the same things. As a glass artist, I don’t go into the booths at art fairs of other glass artists. I don’t want their vision rubbing off on me. I’m trying to stay true to my creative flame. But do I browse magazines and other outlets? Yep! I look for that swirl in the furniture, the color of floral arrangements, nature photos, anything to feed the creative spark.

    Nice article on being inspired and staying true.

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  2. You said it all in the first statement. Every beginning artist needs to hear this and then say “Ok. I will. “ And write it someplace where they see it frequently.
    I live in a small City with way more than it’s share of millionaires.
    One of them has two things he lives by and several of the others attribute their success to him.
    He says…Get up
    Show up
    Shut up

    The other one is “90% of success is just showing up”
    In other words if you don’t make your art no one will see it.
    Simple. But true.

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  3. I think that there is a time and place for looking at other’s work. That time is when we are finding our own artistic voice. I recently switched from polymer to gemstones/minerals/sterling and I have a secret board where I collected ideas. Then I started making in my “new” medium. I have to say that I maybe make one pin to that secret board a week now, and I haven’t looked at it in months. I have found my voice in my “new” medium and I don’t need any new ideas. Heavens, there is not enough time in a week to make the ideas that are flooding me. I also would say, that when I hit a “dry spot”, that secret board will be waiting for me to get me motated again. Love your post, Luann!

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    1. LOL, that’s a good way to approach it, Emma! I think we all look, and “borrow”, and if we make it “ours”, we’ll be okay. But sometimes “looking for inspiration” can feel like sipping from a fire hose, in which case it’s time to go back to our studio.

      Liked by 1 person

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