It’s a hobby of mine to read books about other realms of human development and insert [Art] in place of whatever they’re talking about. Recently, in reading Shunryu Suzuki’s incredible Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, I came across this passage:
“Of course some [ART] encouragement is necessary. But that encouragement is just encouragement. It is not the true purpose of [ART] practice, it is just medicine. When we become discouraged we want some medicine. When we are in good spirits, we don’t need any medicine. We should not mistake medicine for food. Sometimes medicine is necessary, but it should not become our food.”
What does this mean for us as artists? To my mind, Suzuki is making a distinction for us between making art, and literally everything else related to art. Articles about art and art making, video tutorials about process and drawing, lectures about someone’s career: these things are not the true practice of making art. They are not food; they are medicine. This very article is just medicine. And though Suzuki didn’t point this out, I’d like to add that you can pretty easily become addicted to most medicines.
Of course, I can’t deny the need for medicine – and I would never try to. The work we do is very hard, so we need to hear encouragement from time to time; this is the most significant function of articles, lectures, and tutorials. Of course you might glean some cool things to try out – but you won’t really benefit from them until you TRY them.
If medicine is doing its job, it gets us back to making work. Sitting with the work and trying very hard to succeed is the only place where an artist makes “food,” where artistic development and nourishment can happen. That’s because what we need to move forward are skills, not knowledge. Skills are a different type of understanding than knowledge; they manifest as useful actions and are not left in the realm of the abstract. Making art is the one activity – I’m serious, the only one – that can turn knowledge about art into skills.
To learn about ourselves and our art, we must make our art; it’s the only way forward.
Unfortunately, this means you can spend a lifetime keeping up with the [ART] Joneses (binging on medicine), and never learn a real thing. You’ll know if that’s you: you keep getting the feeling that these articles and videos aren’t moving you forward, and it’s frustrating. The one way to scratch the itch you’re trying to scratch is to go make some art food. Making it is what’s important – it doesn’t really matter if the food tastes good or not. You will make a lot of suspect “dishes” before you get your first Michelin star.
Let me prove it to you with a parting bit of good medicine:
I drew this in 2010. Oh yea; that is ME baby! I think I spent about six hours on this. At the time, it was the hardest I’d ever worked on a drawing. I was so proud, even though it’s terrible (which of course I didn’t realize). But there WAS a reason to be proud: I made some art and I tried my hardest, and that’s all we can ever do. This, for me and only me, was art food.
Now let’s all close this browser full of medicine and get back to the real fun of making something of ourselves, by making something for ourselves.
For those who enjoyed this: I’m currently sharing a few posts per month on Patreon, centered around the development of the illustrator, and exploring the world of illustration from behind the curtain.