9 Excuses Artists Need to Stop Making in 2016


Take it from someone who had her Twitter bio as "aspiring dead philosopher" for the longest time (in Internet years...), I know the pain of not embarking on an ambitious pursuit because you have a creative excuse. I kept bragging throughout my time at university that no one understood me because my thoughts were so unique but the truth is, I was just incompetent at expressing my thoughts eloquently enough to be understood and that's a pretty big deal for a writer to admit. 

Over the years as I began to write and now speak across a variety of stages from startup events, tech conferences, artist groups to engaging kids I've managed to spot an eerie-growing trend of fabricated excuses which legitimize your lack of creativity. So I want to put an end to it right now, if 2016 is the year you decide to actual fuel your career or practice and are ready to give up the BS you have held onto so dearly then please read on...

I Don't Have Enough Time

Yep, this is the biggest and in fact isn't common just for artists. Nobody has time yet somehow we are managing to produce, do and create far more than we ever have in the history of civilization. You don't have to be a genius to spot something's amiss. 

Every time you tell yourself 'I don't have enough time' simply replace that with 'it's not a priority for me right now' a trick I learnt from Steve Kamb which you can find out more from here. The premise is pretty simple, if you don't have time to go running in the morning or sit down and enjoy breakfast or make art, whatever it is you're not doing it because it's not a priority at this moment in time for you. 

This exercise isn't designed to make you feel like a horrible person but help you figure out where your priorities actually lie. You might realize perhaps you're more interested in researching about the work much more than actually creating the artwork and that's okay, in fact that's the point. If you know what's most important to you, you will make those happen. Plus the moment you consciously acknowledge what are the things you're doing instead of actually making art, it's so much easier to tactically make time for the things that matter rather than live under the blanket statement of 'I don't have time' which simply isn't very helpful. 

Creativity Doesn't Work on Deadlines

As Chris Ducker says, "if it's not in my calendar, it won't get done" (you can read more about why to-do lists are scamming your brain here). Even for those artists who are able to find/make the time there's this air of free spiritedness that holds millions of creative minds back. 

It's as simple as Parkinson's Law, time expands to fit the task. If you give yourself a 100 days to write a 100 word post you're going to use it all up but if you give yourself 5 mins to write a 100 words post, you're going to use it all up as well. Having a lofty goal of finishing a masterpiece at your creative leisure makes it a hobby, not a creative professional and that's just the harsh truth. If you acknowledge that time is crucial and you don't have much of it yourself to spread across all of your ideas and life then you must appreciate that the world doesn't have the time to sit and wait for you to execute, no matter how fantastic your end result could be. 

Inspiration Can't be Scheduled

This is almost the other side of the creativity not having deadlines and it cracks me up immensely. Do you know Benjamin Franklin? He's kind of well-known and one of my favourite quotes by him goes something like "I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine 0' clock sharp". 

I am no expert in brain mechanics and flow management (although if you're interested take a peak at The Rise of The Superman by Steve Kotler; he's the man behind some amazing research on human performance and concepts around flow) but I have over two decades of experience training my mind to do as it's told (it seldom wants to, trust me). 

If you're the kind who waits around for inspiration to strike, you're going to be needing that for a long time and as we already established time isn't something any of us have plenty of. For different people it's different things that work and there are always trigger points that can get you into a state of flow (just another word for inspiration if you ask me...) so what are some of those things you could be doing rather than give into this feeling of making do with an uninspired life? 

I Can't Compromise on my Artistic Integrity

This is a tough one and one that is probably different for everybody, I have spoken with literally hundreds of artists over the years who swear by how the entire world doesn't understand them and that's why they're unable to further their practice. Whether you don't want to be sold in a commercial gallery because you see that as being a sell-out or if you feel collaborating with others compromises your own ideas. But how is anyone going to find out about you if you simply don't give us a chance to find your work?

The economics of art is a complicated one, primarily because you don't always make a living directly out of your artwork -- I wrote an arguably controversial piece titled "Can Artists Afford to Live in London?" a while back in response to a Frieze Talk you're welcome to dig into but this goes back to having an inflated sense of self (I should know, I was one aspiring to be a famous dead philosopher one day) unwilling or unable to communicate your ideas to groups of people. 

Truth be told, we've all done jobs that were less than ideal. It's much better to work on a creative project and produce an amazing result in the end rather than disregard everyone else's input and part-time in a bar or a cafe which is one of the most infuriating things I feel when I find an artist behind a counter. Humility is an underrated but much desired trait we're all searching for in this world, finding that in an artist willing to work with strangers to create something beautiful in this world is priceless. 

My Ideas are Sacred

There's a strange belief still very prominent in the arts of someone stealing your ideas or that if someone doesn't understand it straight away it's their fault and not yours. 

If you look at the burst of startup industry it goes back to collaboration, the idea of a lone artist working away on a patron's commission in his studio apartment are long gone. We live in a world where ideas thrive when they're allowed to take a life of their own, this might be the harshest thing for a creator/maker to hear but your ideas do not belong to you. I didn't say it was going to be sugar coated, the only real value of anything in our collective world is it's usefulness (whether tangible or not) to someone else so keeping your ideas to yourself is like slowly suffocating them with a pillow and then complaining you got nothing out of it. 

Excuse my morbidity there for a second but it's true as Les Brown puts it "the graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled..." and that's really the truth. The next time you think of an artistic project, decide to share that with five friends and see what comes up  --  you might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly something gains momentum thereby motivating you to actually see through it. 

People Don't Get My Style

This is a very specific kind of an artist who believes (s)he is so unique that the world isn't ready for them. That's cool but merely accepting it means you're allowing yourself to be defeated. 

So what are you going to do about it? There are only two kinds of failure; one where you give in and the other when you don't try. Unless being smug is actually helping you in some strange way that is incomprehensible to everyone else; do something about it

You are supposed to be an artist, creatively expressing what's unique about you is supposed to be your forte  --  if it's not, perhaps you're not an artist. What else are you good at? 

But...I don't have....

Artists have a good way of finding reasonable excuses, I say reasonable because these are the very same excuses everybody else is using too thereby making it socially acceptable. I don't have time, I don't have money, I don't have the right tools, I don't have the connections.....and the list could go on until eternity..... 

We spend our lives thinking and wishing for all the things we don't have that we rarely make use of the things that we do have. If this sounds a bit woo-woo rewind back just ten years ago...we have access to more tools, more free tools on top of that, more people and more of everything. There's literally more of everything and everything is a lot more easier than it was before so stop with the excuses and get creative about achieving what you want to. 

This is My Five Year Plan

This is one of those few artists who feel like they have everything under control but are only systemically being their own worst enemy. It's that artist at the back of the room who feels like (s)he knows everything there is to know and doesn't want to share their ideas because the world doesn't actually get it (see above) and blames their lack of success on things not going the way it was planned. 

Here's a new flash; nothing ever goes as planned. It's called life, now start living it. We all tend to wait around for that one magical moment that's going to make you a star, your friends & family don't have the heart to tell you that's all a lie. Thankfully, I'm not your family and even if you're my friend I'm brutally honest -- at least you know I'd never lie to you. 

Having a long term goal is nice in theory but sticking to it to a point that is preventing you from exploring new avenues is just plain idiocy. I know some incredibly talented artists who don't actually explore their practice enough because they have convinced themselves that there is only path towards being a successful artist and that doesn't involve experimentation. 

I am a Perfectionist

This is one of my favorites and that's why I've saved it for last, artists are not alone in this one -- almost every single human being on the face of the earth uses this excuse for a number of reasons. To be a closer, you can't be a perfectionist and I inherently believe in finishing what you started. 

I indulged in a bit of a rant in another post titled "A Case for Being Content, Embracing your Imperfections & Staying Obsessed" on being a perfectionist. Perfectionists have been outdated since the collapse of the industrial age into the information age. We're more curious to hear new ideas and learn new skills much more than creating that perfect product. In fact, the very idea of perfection is rendered irrelevant in an age that believes in an ever-evolving life cycle of ideas, products & services. If you think art finds itself outside of this spectrum you'll only find yourself always chasing up a dream that doesn't exist. 

"Done is better than perfect" is something Facebook had on it's walls when they first started and it couldn't be more true. You have the rest of your life to perfect something. My half arsed execution is always going to be better than that brilliant idea living in your brain and that's just the truth. You can contest it all you like but if you're using the excuse of perfection for not actually seeing through an idea or project it's easy to see how fragile and vulnerable you are on the inside, too afraid to put something out in the world and too frightened about what everyone else thinks because you don't believe in yourself enough. 

Bhavani Esapathi is a writer & international speaker on digital innovation within cultural industries and social tech. A Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts & WIRED Hack Award Winner 2015, her latest venture is The Invisible Labs; tackling invisible social issues that the world refuses to see. Are you an artist who wants to make a difference using social tech? Drop her a hello on Twitter @bhaesa