I’m currently reading The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (along with about five other books, but I regress). I was struck last night while reading by the adult drive to master a craft. I think we all have a tendency to believe that creativity is something formed when we are young. We either had it nourished or we didn’t. It’s easy to believe that when we ask amazing artists when they started painting and they answer elementary school, or the novelist that answers high school.
Maybe it’s because kids don’t fear failing, maybe it’s because if you’re bad at art in elementary school nobody is going to ask why you still bother to draw. You have permission to enjoy something even if the output isn’t worthy. It’s one of the most amazing things about being young. We have room to fail and with that we have room to grow.
We still do some of this as adults, we all take on tasks at our jobs that we don’t know how to do and flounder around with it until we figure it out, and we keep figuring it out until we master it. But when it comes to things that are vastly seen as hobbies, our drive to work on them seems to be stunted. It suddenly becomes a waste of time. It’s not making money and it’s not getting things done so it’s not worth it.
But we all know it’s not true, we all know what creative outlets do for the soul. We all know that you could in fact turn this into something that profits later on (or not, but it’s an option). You’re not wasting time because as you produce bad works over and over again you are improving, slowly, but steadily.
Vincent Van Gogh didn’t start painting till he was in his twenties and when he started he poured every ounce of himself into it. He got lessons, he practiced and practiced and practiced. He shared his work, he got critiqued on it, and he went back to practicing. He hoped to make money with it, but didn’t start in order to make money, or change his work to make it more marketable.
We don’t all have the time he did, after all he was being supported on his brothers dime and didn’t have to worry about work, but I think there is still a lot to say about that dedication to new skills. We tend not to throw ourselves into things as adults, our drive is shot, we spend to much time worrying about the things that need to get done to worry about the things we would like to learn, but great creators of our time have to worry about that too. I remember when I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and she talked about writing lines in stairwells before quickly returning to life. She wanted to be a writer, so she practiced, constantly. She didn’t ever slack off. She made time for her craft, even between all of life’s daily demands.
It’s easy to quote off that you don’t have time you make time. It’s an easy concept to understand, but a lot of time we don’t take it to heart because we don’t want to. It’s time to want to. It’s time to dedicate ourselves to the things we want to learn to do and be better at. It’s time to sneak seconds doing it. To study it. To emerge ourselves in it.
Our skills don’t have to be things that we fostered as a child, we can pick up new ones now. We can be more interesting well rounded people. We can be more talented people. We just have to make time to fail first, we have to make time to learn.