Listen to Your Inner Artist to Produce Your Best Work

I come from the business world, and I happen to be married to an artist.  Opposites do attract, but you would be surprised at the number of things we share. There are quite a number of unexpected similarities that exist between the two of us. One such similarity is based on how an artist views his or her own artwork.

When artists create artwork, they create that art for others, but they are in pursuit of pleasing themselves.  That may sound a bit strange, but think about that statement for a moment.  At the end of the day, artists have to believe that the work they produce is their best. In turn, they feel a certain level of peace and satisfaction with each new piece they create.  Selling the work is important, but being satisfied with the work is imperative.  An audience’s interpretation is subjective, but an artist’s interpretation is not. 

Consider the following decisions an artist faces:

  • When is a piece of art finished?  When the artist says so.
  • How does an artist judge his or her work?  Artist can’t be satisfied with work until they are pleased with it.
  • Does an artist feel pain when judged harshly by others? Yes, but they feel tormented when they judge their own work harshly.

Artists must satisfy themselves.  That is the ultimate decider.  Clearly, most artists are looking to sell their work. Selling their work allows the artist to pay their bills, and provides a level of validation. However, to be clear, the sale of the artwork does not change the artist’s interpretation of the artwork.  If you walk through our house, you’ll see a few pieces that have never been for sale.  They are pieces that hold a special place in the eyes of the artist, and they aren’t going anywhere.

When we are in a position to create something of our own, in our businesses or in our lives, we should apply these same lessons:

  • When is an idea finished?  When we say so.  We are the subject matter experts and as strange as this might sound, we have to count our own opinions over others.  In business, that’s what we are paid for.  If we bypass our own decision-making process and only use the client’s criteria to judge our work, we can create even bigger problems. Remember, if a client strong-arms the work you do and tells you how to do it, and ultimately doesn’t like the outcome, I can assure you, they won’t be blaming themselves.
  • How will we judge our idea?  If we are pleased with it.  I’m not saying we don’t rely on, and take, our client’s feedback seriously, but ultimately, we have to believe in, and be satisfied with, the work we do.
  • Will we feel pain when judged harshly by others?  We sure will, but we will be haunted by disappointment if what we offered was not up to our own standards.  We must meet our own criteria for excellence.

I do believe there is an artistic voice in all of us, and we need to listen to that voice.  Please understand that I’m not advocating that you don’t work to satisfy your clients.  I just believe, more often than not, if we satisfy ourselves, we’ll satisfy our clients.  After all, in the end, who understands a piece of art better than the artist?

Related: Lessons From Michael Jordan and "The Last Dance"