Ask the Art Prof: How Does a Visual Artist Keep Pushing Themselves to Get to that Next Level?

Final Crit

“How do you keep pushing yourself to get to that next level? It seems like my art teachers have been the ones who pushed me because I am in school but after school and when you are finally “on your own” what kinds of things motivate you to not get bored or expand to new places. I am concerned about after college and not having those people in my life to give me assignments every week that develop growth. In other words, what keeps you inspired and always on your feet?”

When you’re deep in the trenches of art school, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that some day you’ll be on your own. You grow accustomed to your professors breathing down your neck on a weekly basis, and you have regular deadlines and requirements that need to be met. I can however, assure you that there will eventually come a time where you will want to be on your own, away from the multiple distractions that art school can sometimes create. I remember my senior year at RISD becoming frustrated by the completely divergent opinions of my professors, and craving the mental space to finally clear my head and think for myself.

It’s different for every person, but you have to figure out what works for you, and it’s a slow process that you’ll troubleshoot  over many years.  I personally know that I need structure in my life to get anything done, so I’ve learned to create my own structures and deadlines. I have this blog which I feel pressured to update regularly to document my progress in the studio.  I apply for grants which have their own deadlines that I have to meet. I set concrete goals that must be fulfilled.

When I started my series of self-portraits in the Falling series, I announced on my blog that I was going to create 50 drawings. That declaration meant that I had to follow through and finish the series. I had more than a few stages during that project where I really didn’t feel motivated to keep working, but I knew that I couldn’t just flake out and leave the series incomplete. You have to find strategies and ways to exert pressure on yourself to get things accomplished.

Tone project

Inspiration comes in many forms after art school.  It could be a trip to a museum, a lecture you attend, a film you saw, but for me the most compelling inspiration I have are my artist friends and colleagues.  I feed off of their energy and ideas, I watch their artwork grown and develop, and it keeps me going.  They understand where I’m coming from and commiserate when things get rough. As busy as I am, I make sure that I have coffee with them regularly.  I always come away from our conversations with a renewed sense of motivation and excitement for making my own work.

And remember, those professors in you had during art school don’t have to disappear from your life after art school.  Find teachers you have a strong connection with, and don’t be afraid to get back in touch with them.  With all of the technology that’s available to us that’s become easier than ever, and most professors are happy to hear from former students.  I have two former professors with whom I have been showing my work in the many years since I graduated.  I have so much respect for them that I know I can’t call them up with nothing to show-another strategy for keeping myself motivated and on track.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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