The basics

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.

Personal experience.

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.


22 thoughts on “The basics

  1. Thank you for this. To write about expression when we see and hear what is being expressed. You’ve come close, to me and my process. – we reach out and express to be recognised and met.


  2. You’re right about this and I thank you for having reminded me of it- that in making art and being human , we are bound to fail to ourselves and to others. Sh*t happens. There is no guarantee that everything will be alright. What lies at the end probably is death… And the only sensible choice available is to work harder or find a new strategy to live your life. Everybody says that it is okay to fail but when they fail, well some of them quit but not me. As you’ve stated once you read/watch/consume art you usually end up developing a taste and if along that taste you also develop a feeling that you’ve got something to say- that is the catalyst that sets on the process that leads you to make art. The problem is as you’ve stated is that most of this art ends up becoming crap. Sometimes you realize this yourself, sometimes it is other people who point this out to you. Humans are social creatures. Artists are human. Humans care about what other humans think about them and yet frequently deny that they do (how do I know this?Well I am human too!). We often try to convince ourselves that the art we make is for ourselves. Well I think it is certainly true that we make it for our own personal satisfaction but we also want other people to feel what you felt when you read a certain book/story/manga/(in my case the Sherlock Holmes canon), watched a certain movie/anime/painting/whatever and you want to feel good about being able to make someone feel that. We make art for many reasons… to reconciliate with our past maybe, for fun, for money, for fame, out of boredom… but one of the most common reasons is “To let others know that we are alive”.

    P.S.- The comment got too long. I hope that my rant didn’t, I am sorry if it did annoy you Cristian, other commenters and readers.


  3. I feel your words deeply. Only because much of my life I have written so much that its hard for me to begin. I move around so much lost so much and now here I am as you say alone. Trying my best to avoid writing how I feel about my life Why? Don’t know but its an emotional block I believe. Too Deep!


  4. Hi Cristian,
    Just wanted to say thank you for this post, I enjoyed reading immensely. I am at that stage with my writing where my work is not matching up to my vision (at all) and I’ve really been struggling with it a bit lately. To read this and get some reassurance that everyone goes through it and the main thing is to just keep going is really inspiring.
    Thanks again,


  5. I absolutely love this video. It captures exactly how I feel as a writer – right now and in the past. That whole part about having good taste, knowing the work I was producing just wasn’t what I wanted it to be? Spot on.


  6. For me it is nice to be alone with me, myself and God! Only when God’s peace settles in on me can I really find who He created me to be and to not only confront the past but find hope and courage for the future.


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