How to Be an Artist-Final

(Drawing by Kate Holden)


If there is one piece of advice I could give to artists of all disciplines, in all stages of their careers, it would be this: make art. Period.

Writer and art critic Sigrun Hodne posted this simple, but brilliant drawing on her blog, Sub Rosa. The drawing is by Kate Holden, a freelance illustrator from the UK who “made that image late one night last September while feeling particularly frustrated at all the young artists I was seeing on places like Tumblr who instead of working hard making art just sat around moping because when they did draw something it wasn’t flawless!”

The secret to thriving as an artist—to making your best work and finding contentment—is doing, regardless of how profound or how terrible the final product.

As Sol LeWitt once advised Eva Hesse in this letter, we must “stop thinking, worrying, looking over…

[our] shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO….”


Sol LeWitt-Eva Hesse Letter-Page 1-FINAL


Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, and it isn’t.

Making art and “doing” are too often stymied by our own psychological muddles. Our mental outlook matters just as much as the practical actions we take in pursuit of a creative life.

To thrive as artists, we must become adept at moving through fear and turning ideas into action. Here is another excerpt from LeWitt’s letter to Hesse:

It is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can’t you leave the “world” and “ART” alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going.


Eva Hesse at work in her studio in Kettwig an der Ruhr, Germany, 1964 / 1965 (Photo by Nathan Kernan © The Estate of Eva Hesse courtesy Hauser & Wirth)

Eva Hesse at work in her studio in Kettwig an der Ruhr, Germany, 1964 / 1965
(Photo by Nathan Kernan © The Estate of Eva Hesse courtesy Hauser & Wirth)


Successful artists are resilient. They’re mindful, open, and unafraid. They take risks and maintain a steady sense of self-worth not conflated with externals. There is a direct correlation between thriving and our willingness to be vulnerable.

But many of us are so hellbent on avoiding such feelings of vulnerability, that we engineer our lives to stay small—we fly just below the radar. And not only are our lives small, but our art becomes small as well.

It’s as simple and complicated as this: if we want to make our best work, we must believe that what we have to say matters. We must believe wholeheartedly in our own vision of the world.

We must be willing to be imperfect, vulnerable, playful, uncertain, and authentic. Doing is the creative habit that separates those who go places from those who spin their wheels.

(Note: Sol LeWitt’s letter to Eva Hesse is courtesy The LeWitt Collection in Connecticut)



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