Let me just tell you that what Ira Glass says in this video is absolutely true, and it applies to all forms of art.
Basically, there are two rules: absorb art (read books, stare at thousands of paintings, study how others do it, etc.), and make art. Simple as that.
Now, there’s a good reason why you need to absorb as much art as possible.
Because it’s the only way you can develop a taste. It’s the only way you’re ever going to figure out what makes good art good, and what makes great art great. Also, it allows you to discover what you really like; what type of art works are you instantly drawn to.
Also, absorbing as much art as possible makes it possible to know what innovation really is. You need to learn from the masters, to know the rules in order to break them, to understand the mechanics in order to change them. There’s no other way, I’m afraid.
Now about the second part. Making art.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s the trickiest part. Once you absorb a lot of art you want to create it yourself. There’s always some stupid motivation behind this, such as, “I want to write a book just as good as…” or, to paraphrase Stephen King, “I know I can do better than this or that author…”
The only people who never try are the ones who are too afraid to do so or the ones who have already developed a certain talent…
Regardless, you will fall short. Once, twice… and so on. There’s no way to avoid this. Art has never been only about innate abilities — you can call it talent if you want.
Art is, most of all, about hard work.
But then we get to our next point. If you’ve read so many books, is it possible that you’re just writing like a bunch of dead authors? How do you find your voice?
In my early teens I tried to write like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Of course, that didn’t work out so well.
But imitation is important. You still have to work hard to finish stuff. It takes away some of the pressure… that of a certain style or vision.
Because the next thing is equally important: The only thing more important than hard work is vision; what makes your art yours and only yours. And vision is all about one thing and one thing only.
Sooner or later, if you keep making art, something’s bound to happen. A specific event you’ll feel compelled to write about. Or you’ll meet someone.
Because there’s one thing about art that most people tend to overlook. Yes, most times it’s a lonely process, and it’s a process through which we confront our loneliness, our nature, and our past. But is also the best way to let others know that we are alive, that we are living, breathing creatures.
We want to let others know that we are not insignificant, that we are not here just because we were born into this world. We have a purpose, we have ideals and dreams, and we want things, and we suffer, and we cry, and we fall in love…
And you’re the only one who can write about your life the way you do, you’re the only one who knows what’s going on inside your head.
To simplify stuff, your perception of life is what gives you artistic vision.
It’s really as simple as this. A lot of people quit when they fail to create a certain artwork just the way they envisioned it. But the truth is that all artists fail. That’s why they keeping making more art. They’re never 100% satisfied. They try again and again for perfection, and they fail, and that’s what keeps them going.
Then… a lot of people quit when they fail to find an audience, or when people criticize them. They fail because they’d much rather go fishing or whatever. They fail because they don’t want to fight their own demons in order to acquire a vision, they just want to create something’s that beautiful and empty.
When did you really write about that one thing you hate most in the world?
Did you ever write about the most painful experience you ever had?
That’s the only tie between suffering and art. You don’t really have to suffer more than others, you just have to confront your suffering, understand it, then translate it into something other people will understand; be it a story or a painting or a song.
And that’s the most difficult part of being an artist… of being a human being. We run away from our problems, we hide our demons behind locked doors, we suppress bad memories.
That’s why, for an artist, is always healthy to spend time alone. Just you and yourself. Confront your demons, confront your past, find out who you really are.
It’s a sad, sad truth that most people go through life without figuring that part out… who they really are.