I wouldn’t call myself a “successful” artist in the professional sense. My work rarely sells, I don’t practice regularly, and it’s not my sole vocation. However, I do believe I know my shit when it comes to creating meaningful art. I have been making art for my entire life, I attended an accredited art university, and have exhibited my work in galleries and competitions for years. I know how to make art that moves people, regardless of my credentials, or lack thereof. And that is what this article is about.
It’s fairly easy for me to make meaningful art, because I do have the luxury of not trying to please anyone or make a sale. The pressure is off for me in this respect, and it makes all the difference. I use my art as therapy for the most part, so it’s almost like my style of art making has built-in meaning. I understand not all artists create in this way, but there are things an artist can do to pivot in this direction.
In my opinion, making beautiful art is important. I don’t want to make anything that doesn’t make a set of eyeballs rejoice with rapture. I want the viewer to feel awed by the beauty I create. But empty beauty is different than beauty that has a meaningful edge. It’s a fine line and a tricky balance, but achieving this quality within every creation is a skill that every artist can hone.
If you are an artist and/or love reading about art and the creative process, you might like my other articles in the ART TALK section of my blog.
LEAN INTO THE DARKNESS
Honestly, one of the greatest qualities of an artist is her or his ability to go dark. We have the capacity to get super dark and feel all the feels, whether we want to or not. It always feels uncomfortable of course. We are not immune to feeling shitty when thinking about painful things. But we do have the ability to channel those feelings in a unique way. Our brain and heart and hands all align when we are making meaningful art, and we are using all three body parts at once. It’s like synergy. The brain keeps the composition in check and ensures we are communicating a clear message. The heart keeps the emotions flowing and the channels open. And the hands are connected to the brain and the heart, and mechanically convey our actual message to the world.
THINK OF SOMETHING DARK AND PAINFUL AND THEN PUT YOURSELF IN FRONT OF YOUR CHOSEN BLANK MEDIUM
It takes courage to make meaningful art. You have to be brave enough to take yourself to a dark place and feel all the feelings. And you have to be strong enough to go there and then pull yourself back. You need to be honest with yourself. Viewers are sophisticated. Even if they are not “art experts,” they are human beings. And all human beings can tell when something is true and when something is false. You must be brave enough to be honest with yourself. This is the only way to imbue meaning into your work.
My relationship with my mother has been my greatest source of pain in life, but it’s also been my greatest source of inspiration. © Libby Saylor, Mom 19, mixed media on paper, 2002.
WHEN MAKING ART, LISTEN TO MUSIC THAT STIRS YOUR EMOTIONS
I remember once I was talking to one of my non-artist friends about my art-making process. She naturally assumed that I always play fun music when I’m creating. At that point, I realized that the music I listen to when I create is part of my creative strategy. I corrected her and told her that it’s the total opposite. I listen to dark music that is really haunting and depressing. She was so surprised by this, understandably. Why would anyone CHOOSE to go to a dark place? But when trying to make meaningful art, listening to emotionally stirring music is an invaluable tool.
Neko Case and her beautiful albums were ALL I used to listen to when I was making art. Everyone has their own brand of music that stirs their emotions, so I am not pushing this album on anyone. But this just happens to be one of my art-making soundtracks, so I figured I would share.
BEGIN WITH RAW MARK-MAKING AND GO FROM THERE
No matter your medium, it’s important to begin by impressing your raw emotions onto your chosen medium, and then build from there. You need to start with a toxic dump of feelings to get things flowing. Emotional purging is essential when you begin a work of art. Otherwise, you might get stuck on making something too pretty without ever expressing any depth.
If you are an artist, you feel shit. Don’t tell me you don’t. Of course, all human beings feel shit. But artists feel in a way that is both really, super buried, and totally on the surface as well. It’s a strange combination of emotional management that we must deal with on a regular basis. But, if we understand how we are built, we can use this to our advantage and capitalize on our inherent creative makeup.
I imagine the energetic body of an artist kind of like an open elevator shaft. Many human beings have floors in their “building” that they just don’t ever visit. Maybe certain floors are under construction. Or maybe the elevator door always gets stuck and never opens on certain floors. It’s totally normal. However, for an artist, ALL of our floors are accessible, always, day or night, rain or shine. We can choose which floors we want to visit and which floors we want to avoid, at any given time.
So, if every floor is accessible, you should really consider exploring all levels of your badass artist self, if you haven’t already. I know the basement level is creepy and gross and icky. The attic smells funny and is always so hot and sticky. And the 8th floor, oh hell no. But you might find something magical locked away in some sacred box, if you just allow yourself to go there.
In the name of creating meaningful art, you owe it to yourself to try.
FORGET ABOUT WHAT OTHERS WILL THINK
I know this is hard, I really do. But you HAVE to find a way not to care what others will think of your work. You have to, because this might actually be the most important component to creating meaningful art.
When you are creating something, tell yourself that you will never show this to anyone. Give yourself permission to get really into it. If you live under one roof with your family or live with other people, find a way to conceal your work in progress projects so you can just have fun with your little secret. Make a work of art for yourself exclusively and see what happens.
If you are thinking about who will like your work, or if your work is good, or if your work will sell, when you are actually making your work, your art will suffer. Period. You gotta find ways to get out of that mindset.
This is something I created for myself and it’s magical and wonderful. This thing will probably never sell, and that has to be okay. I made this for myself, because it was screaming to come out of me. And it’s meaningful and delicate and those who see it are moved by it. That has to be enough. © Libby Saylor, Fairy Habitat for Binda-Gorph (detail). Mixed media, 4.25″w x 6″h x 1.75″d, July 5, 2020.
You have to make art for yourself. Make art that you love and that means something to you. Make it personal and worry about what others will think later. This is hard, I know. But it’s a powerful method to ensure you are creating meaningful art.
You might also like my article, WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE A CREATIVE BLOCK.
- Accept failure and keep going. When you create super raw and unrefined work, some of it is actually going to suck. Like, for real, it won’t be attractive. But that doesn’t mean that creative session was useless. You got some emotional gunk up and out, so that’s great!
- I know this sounds weird, but when I am creatively stuck, sometimes I force myself to dance like an actual maniac for a few minutes before I get started creating. This is a great way to release my tight and confining energy and move me into that space of not-giving-a-crap. It really works!
- Take time away from creating to recharge and allow life to inspire you. If you are constantly trying to produce, you don’t give yourself room to breathe and reflect on things. You need to have life itself inspire you and stir shit up for you. Then get back to your art making with newfound perspectives.
To all art-makers, I hope you found this article useful. And to all of you non-art-makers who are fascinated by art and art-making, I hope you found this entertaining.
Much more to come! xo
More meaningful “mom” art that I made just for me. © Libby Saylor, mixed media in cardboard box, 3″ x 3″ 2020
Featured photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash
Elevator photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash