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Where To Start (You Are Your Own Muse)

"Entrance" Richard Edic 2023

Overheard at a party, a conversation between a woman contemplating retirement from a corporate job, looking ahead to pursuing some kind of creative activity, and a working artist. She asks,“What is your muse?” Muse is defined as “inspiration, creative influence, stimulus, stimulation”. This speaks to a common fantasy that creativity starts with some lightning bolt of inspiration, a source that can be tapped into at will. The other comment that successful creative people have to endure is “You are so talented”. Talent is a factor, and it may be what gives someone’s work a uniqueness that stands out above the average offering, but it is a pretty small piece of the whole.

The reality is that creativity is a muscle that grows out of hard work and discipline. It needs a solid foundation based on patience and awareness of where you came from and where you are going with your work and your life. It needs to be a reflection of your experiences, struggles, and observations. If you are young and haven’t experienced much then you need to get busy. This doesn’t mean that the random influences and experiences of childhood aren’t important. The books we read, the places that have a strong impact on us, and the people that help or hurt us when we are young influence us for the rest of our lives, for better or worse. This is the beginning that need to tap into for creative expression.

Early adulthood, the late teens and early twenties, is a time in our lives when we are surrounded by influences and ideas, which is exciting, scary, overwhelming, awesome, depressing...very dramatic. It’s also a time when, with a few rare exceptions, we’re not mature or disciplined enough to channel all that into some kind of cohesive creative work. So what do we do? We copy other artists work whether we know it or not. We try to write like Hemingway, paint like Basquiat. There is nothing wrong with this. It is an excellent way to learn, to begin to find your way towards your own creative identity. Look for some very early work by painters, writers, or musicians. Chances are it will be heavily influenced by a teacher or someone else that they admired or worked under. Jackson Pollock studied under Thomas Hart Benton. There can be no two more opposite artists, but some of Pollock’s early paintings resemble Benton’s. Unless you’re actually trying to find a career as a forger (best of luck, don’t get caught) chances are that your efforts will quickly veer away from those influences and towards something unique to you.

And so that muscle starts to grow. A visual artist starts to see the world differently from others, a musician hears in a different way than the rest of us, a writer understands language in more subtle and complex ways. What about craft? Craft is technique combined with discipline. Mastery of technique allows us to convey our ideas to others without embarrassing ourselves. It needs to develop side by side with the ideas, and it shouldn’t be very obvious. If you can’t use a tape measure you’ll never be a carpenter, but you won’t get any awards your ability to measure either.

At some point momentum builds, ideas feed off one another, and things start to follow their own course. If you want to be a photographer, take photographs. You want to write, write. You want to be a musician, practice and perform. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen. When you begin to build a body of work and learn to accept the good and reject the bad, you will start to build momentum. New ideas will start to flow. This is how you find your muse.

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