How do you become a better artist/writer/musician? That's a question I've been asking myself lately. Is it by tapping into a deeper source, or just by keeping applying oneself to one's chosen art? Or is it a matter of taste? I could ask how did Leonardo Da Vinci become a better artist? I'm sure he didn't plan to become what he became, a true Renaissance man, and that word wasn't even invented in those days. And what about Vincent Van Gogh's art? He didn't make a dime off of his art, and now it sells for millions. He lived frugally and was often starving, but he "saw" his world in such a compelling way that when we look at his art, you can FEEL what it was like on a hot summer day in Provence. I admire him because he left all contemporary art "rules" behind and painted what he saw and felt, in a simple, yet wholly sophisticated way. I would dare to suggest art was his calling, and despite his problematic life, he pursued that with his whole being.
Maybe that's what it takes to be GREAT, even if the supposed skills are not there. What I mean by that is the contemporary consensus belief of what "good" art is. I would say that practicing one's craft/skills is important, but genius happens when all is lost and something can emerge and manifest out of the wreckage of what "should be."
Some would call that a spiritual experience, and maybe it is. Also, all the cumulative experimentation will lead somewhere. Persistence pays, but the ultimate expression is hidden until the moment it appears.
I can't really speak for musicians, but if you're good at your instrument, maybe inspiration strikes because you don't have to think about chords, or the instrument that is your voice. I was stunned when reading Mick Jagger's biography by Norman Philip to learn that The Stones' manager in the early days used to lock Jagger and Richards in a room and not let them out until they had come up with songs for their next album. They winged something that became some of the most loved songs over the last fifty years. I don't know if this is a true portrayal of what happened; I'm only mentioning what I read in the biography.
What is true about all artists of any kind is that we put ourselves out there. We might not be in the league with The Rolling Stones, but they started out as young men being truly passionate about the American blues music. I watched a video about a new song from Playing for Change (which is a movement I love,) that has a recent song by Keith Richards. He is his most authentic; he is just himself. After sooo many years, you can still feel his passion for the music. I admire that, and I'm grateful to be able to hear the song. It inspires me. Music is alive all over the planet, and I'm GRATEFUL that music is tying us together. Music touches the soul more than anything.
So, coming back to art, and writing, how to become better at it? Since I do both, I'm always up against what is going on. I've learned to let it flow. No one has ever said anything bad about my art, and you know how much people liked it by the traffic to any particular art piece, and how fast it sold. All I can do is strive to be authentic in all that goes on the canvas.
Writing is more vulnerable to negative criticism, but again, all you can do is your best, and let it all hang out. Writing is an instrument, a craft, that can be mastered, but then the artistry comes in and makes something special, or not so special. We all know what we like, but why do we like it? It's not the writer's style so much as their heartfelt need to put their idea on paper. Good style helps of course... And we all know the books we put down because we could not finish them. Writing has to touch a particular chord in us as we read it. Some books touch a lot of people, and some are forgotten on deep dusty shelves. Is it taste?
It is a very subjective business, and we artists can only be where we are at the time of our evolution and just stick to our passion to create. That is the spiritual part, to create because you must, and it consumes you more than any other occupation on earth. That is what makes mastery. The masters never doubted their own need to create. They probably questioned the quality just as I'm doing right now, but they held true to their calling.
Are there levels of mastery? Not everyone can be a Da Vinci or a Michelangelo, or a mega rock band, but does taste form what is mastery of artistic expression today? Media seems to think so, but I tend to differ. I like what speaks to my soul. Children's art always does, but going beyond that... What is your take on creativity and success?