How to Find Your Artistic Purpose

So how do you find your artistic purpose? how do you even know you’re on the right path? it this the art I’m supposed to do? How do you know for sure?

I get these questions a lot, not only from artists I coach but also from artist friends, too. The answer seems pretty simple to me now, although just a few years ago I really (I mean really) struggled with this – almost to a point of complete immobility and as a result severe headaches.

I was really struggling with what type of work to do. Should I continue to do abstract painting or veer off into more traditional work. I even thought of doing some sort of combines (a la Rauchenberg) because I liked the physical substance of paint and really wanted to “gunk up” something.

But I just wasn’t sure. I was waiting for some kind of signal from outside. Something that would set off the tiger and say, “Yeah, that’s it!” – but you know what? It never happened. I was back at the starting line once again.

One indelible day, I got it. I didn’t get what I was supposed to paint or some stylistic direction but something deeper. It was the distinction that your purpose (or in this case, what stylistic direction) isn’t dictated by something outside of you or something “out there.” It comes from within. Your purpose is created, it’s designed, it’s developed by you. It’s whatever you say it is.

It’s like that old story of the person looking around for their reading glasses and you and other members of you’re family are laughing because the reading glasses are flipped up on their head. This was a major revelation for me. I (yes, ME) was the person walking around looking for my glasses when they were on my head to begin with!

It became such a freeing paradigm. That I could create what I wanted to create. Look at Picasso. He just leapfrogged from one style to another, from Realism to Cubism, to Surrealism to this style and that style and back again. Truly amazing.

I am certainly not saying that everyone be a Picasso and hopscotch all around art history – unless, of course, that’s your thing. I think today, in particular, it IS important to carve out some type of niche – for a lot of reasons I won’t get into here but it really helps in terms of positioning you as a brand where you can “own” your own niche, which helps to optimize sales and provides laser-beam focus of your work.

Because you’re no longer considering this or that or what to do – you’re just working – focusing singularly on your craft. It’s a bit counter-intuitive but focusing on a niche can be VERY beneficial.

A good example of this is Jasper Johns, the American painter. There was a point where he wasn’t really sure what type of work he was to produce. After a fair amount of experimentation, he decided to focus on “things the mind already knows.” It was a way to free himself up so he wouldn’t have to worry about WHAT to create. That was already solved. He went on to paint American flags, targets, maps, numbers, etc.

All he had to do was paint it. So he focused on the craft of “making” via paint and encaustic. What resulted are some of the most beautiful and enigmatic paintings ever created.

So realize that your purpose is created. It’s created by you. Create whatever feels right to you. No need to look outside yourself, the power is within you. Tap into it.

Image above:
“Racing Thoughts” 1984
Jasper Johns
Oil on canvas. 50 x 75 in.
The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection.

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