There is a point you reach as an artist when you have to wonder what makes your work worthwhile, and it’s a very stressful place to be. You find yourself questioning the purpose of everything you do. You wonder if you should have spent all those hours drawing instead of reading, or studying. You think that maybe it would have been a better endeavor to learn about science and math rather than sculpting and painting.
But if you step back and gain some perspective on your life you can see that what you learn is more than just the major you picked in college. Anyone can be a student of any subject they chose. When you leave the cocoon of undergraduate study, if you have the ware-with-all, you can see that all of the “courses” are available. Just pick up a book and read, or visit a site and learn; find documentary and watch.
Learning is something innate and can be done anywhere and at any time. And being an artist affords an interesting advantage in this pursuit of every “course”, because when you’re an artist the expectations on you are open for interpretation. In a traditional career, your superiors will tell you what skills you need and what knowledge you should seek. But when you are your own supervisor and the only people you are beholden to is the market, then the specifics of your personal studies are left to you to iron out.
I once heard someone liken the creative process to a lottery drawing, where each ball in the bin is an idea, emotion, or experience, and our mind tumble the balls around constantly. And when we imagine, we are just drawing the balls and make connecting between the disparate ideas. This often leaves me feeling very limited by what I know. I find myself wishing that I could tap into some kind of universal repository of knowledge, and just know everything, and make everything connect and make sense. This desire is ever becoming a more realistic option with the development of the internet. As we strive to make the internet a more productive place and not just a time waster and focus distractor,we make it more and more a place to find inspiration and interesting perspectives that may be very different to our own.
Now more than ever the previous archetype of a single career path is becoming obsolete, we are becoming a generation of renaissance men that the masters of classical Italy we we all be entrepreneurs, creating art, sharing news, and educating our peers across all media. We will all become artists in our own right, and as such we will seek out our muses wherever they might be found. If you find inspiration in the molecular structure of water then that is what you should study. If feel you need to everything about the sea turtle to better sculpt your next piece then that’s what you’ll learn about. You define your own skill requirements, and you determine that next set of trainings to undertake. And the only tests required certifying your proficiency is the next sale or gallery showing.
And maybe none of this will pan out as I imagine, the next generation may rebel against this trend and make strides back toward specialization and the single career track. And it’s impossible to predict game changers that come from left field. For instance, maybe we finally create an artificial intelligence capable of real creativity and the artists of the day make a retreat and begin making static undynamic and completely uniform artwork and that become the prevailing taste of the populace at large. I doubt this eventuality, but even great minds of the past cast doubt on the potential of computers, automobiles, and no one in the Forties and Fifties saw the advent of the Graphical User Interface (GUI; Windows, Mac OS, Linux).
What will always be true, since it is inherent to the very definition of the field, is that entrepreneurs, of all types including artists, will always be responsible for their own education and training, they decide what is important to learn to complete the next project. There is no extraneous information, because at the end of the day when you sell a piece of artwork what you are selling is a piece of your self, a representation of who you are and what is important to you, you skill and you experience and all the nuances therein.
So if you find yourself doubting your decision to become an artist, just remember that you are in charge of your voice and direction, if you decide that you need to learn a new language and move to a new country to express the ideas that are important to you than that is what is necessary. If you decide that you need you become and expert in electrical engineering to make an idea work for you, then pursue with the mad passion that is so typical of our professional and critics be damned. The image of the flighty, empty headed artist is a fallacy, you are as skilled and knowledgeable as you decide to be and the only thing keeping you from that “course” you never took it yourself. Pick up that book, find that mentor, discover that documentary, heck you could even just take that course, you don’t need a diploma to tell you that you know you history, or that you know physics, just learn it. Pick your sources carefully and go.
And that’s my take on being and artist.