Recently, I've been reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. While I initially started reading the book in hopes of paring down my possessions for an upcoming move, I have found myself transfixed with the simple question she uses when deciding whether or not to keep an item: "Does this spark joy?" And while certainly this is an excellent way to narrow down what physical things you value most, it can also be used in many other situations, namely: art.
Does your art spark joy?
For years I tried to make art that was marketable and appealing to a wide range of audiences. And along the way, I lost my passion for it. I was so focused on trying to make commercially viable art, that I forgot the reason I had started painting in the first place: which was simply that painting made me happy. Funnily enough, as soon as I started making art that I enjoyed creating and that brought me joy, I found the commercial success for which I had yearned.
For many of us, our art is also our work and thus takes up a large portion of our time and energy, but this doesn't mean that we can't still enjoy it. Think back to why you decided to go into art in the first place. Did you constantly doodle in your notebooks in school? Were you always making up stories in your head? Did your limbs ache if you sat still too long, begging you to dance? More than likely, you pursued art because it brought you joy. And, more than likely, your art sparks joy in others too.
I have a dear friend who is an incredible dancer and choreographer. When I watch her dance, I am filled with the same feeling that I get when I'm sitting in my studio, absorbed in a wonderful trance of painting. It is a pure and fascinating joy, and I can see her passion and her devotion to her art in every movements. It can be easy, I think, to be so consumed in the process of creating that we forget that the finished art is meant to be seen and enjoyed. That we can, in some sense, share our joy with our audiences, even if we don't know it. That we can choose to create joy in our lives and in our work, and offer up this happiness for others to participate in too.
Of course, there are many aspects of your art that will not necessarily bring you joy. For instance, I don't particularly like painting still-lifes or realistic studies of anatomy. Yet, if I ignore these crucial exercises, my art will suffer. Similarly, I greatly dislike bookkeeping and accounting, yet I can't very well skip them simply because they don't bring me joy. I'd be in a very tight spot if I did! I like to call this the "eating your vegetables" principle, where you may not enjoy something (and it may very well feel like choking down raw brussel sprouts), but it's good for you. It's a necessary step to keep growing as an artist and to running a healthy business.
The key, at least for me, is to think of the joy of art in terms of the big picture. Since I do illustration for a living, I work on plenty of projects that might not be my personal favorite, such as an assignment to draw cute cans of spinach (you'd be amazed). Yet, even illustrating spinach cans, I can find joy in the fact that I'm getting to do what I love: paint. I am able to take pleasure in working from home and in having a flexible schedule. It's all about silver linings and remembering to view things as a whole, instead of getting caught up in the details of "I don't like this" or "this isn't my style." Naturally, as your reputation as an artist grows, you're able to be more selective about the projects you take on, but it's still good to be able to find the positive in everything.
I know I've written before about the importance of artistic play, and this is why. To be able to take even a 5 minute doodle break and in so doing remind yourself how much you love what you do is invaluable. I've often heard the saying "if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life," which I don't quite agree with, but I like the sentiment. If you are passionate about your work, and if that work makes you happy, it will show. When I'm asked about working as a professional illustrator, I admit that I quite often work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, with very few true holidays. Most people make a horrid face and ask how I can do that, week after week, month after month. And the answer, quite simply, is that I love what I do. Painting sparks great joy for me, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.