Fall is in the air. I love this time of year, when you need to wear a jacket in the morning but want to roll up your sleeves by lunchtime. And fall means two things, the start of the education year in September and Inktober the following month.
My artist friends will mostly be familiar with Inktober, but for the rest of you it was started by Jake Parker in 2009 as a personal challenge and has since become an internet phenomenon. The idea is to do one ink drawing each day in the month of October. Look for the hashtag #Inktober on Twitter and Facebook. It isn’t a contest; there are no winners and no prizes. It’s just a discipline. Do a drawing every day. Originally it had to be in ink, but now it seems anything will do. My goal, as usual, is to take up the challenge and see if I have the discipline to draw every day.
By the end of the month, I hope to have thirty-one drawings; but more important, I hope to have drawn for a solid month. Because for me, the point of the exercise is… well, to exercise. To have the experience, not the pictures.
This is something that over time most artists come to understand. You don’t draw to make pictures, you draw to draw. It truly is art for art’s sake. Of course, you have pictures at the end. Some are good; some are crap. But the more you draw, the more good pictures you have, and the greater the percentage of your pictures will be not crap. Practice does not, in fact, make perfect. However, It does make better. That’s another thing you learn if you draw a lot – you are never going to reach perfection. But you will get better.
And that is why you draw.
When I was chair of a college fine art department, I would read the applications from students who wanted to study art. Because we taught art for game designers, many of the applicants said that they wanted to come to the course to get jobs in the gaming industry. Depending on how good their portfolio was, I would suggest offering these students a place, but I knew that if they came, one of two things would happen. They would either change their reasons for being there, or they would flunk out. Because no one will ever get good at anything if they do it just to get a job. They will only get good if they do it to get good. Then they may stand a chance of getting a job.
I have found the same thing applies in the martial arts. If people do karate because they want to beat people up, they don’t last long in their training. And if they do stick it out, it is because they fall in love with the training. With the discipline. With the practice.
I hope to make first grade (shodan/black belt) in my Iaido school. It would be nice to think I might make second grade (nidan) as well. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter, because I will keep training for as long as I can. Not to grade, not to become a second dan, but to improve. And as I get older, and I’m fighting just to stay in the same place, I will keep on training, not because I ever think I will be attacked by ninjas and will have to defend myself, but because I really, really like the training, the discipline, the practice. I like trying to improve, even if I’m not making much progress.
I loved playing soccer for the same reason. It was a blast to be part of the team. And yes, I was insanely proud when I scored! What I was too young to recognize was that what I liked best was playing. Winning was cool, but being good enough to play for forty-five minutes without a break was awesome.
I remember two things from playing soccer. One was scoring the tying goal in an important match. The other was watching the winning goal roll past my feet and into the net, without kicking it in myself. After all, it was already going in. Why not let the other guy get the credit? He was playing for the love of it, too.
Play to play. Train to train. Draw to draw.
The participation is the prize. Yes, I like being paid for my artwork, but I also realize I am a better art minister than I am an artist. I got paid for teaching, and that was cool. But my students come back to me to ask questions or just to say hello. Even cooler.
There is a Sufi expression, “Pray without hope of heaven or fear of hell.” I think life should be like that. Especially if you don’t believe in either heaven or hell. Live, without hope of success or fear of failure. Draw without hope of art or fear of crap. You’ll probably do both from time to time.
So, for October, pick something you like to do, or wish you were better at, or wish you could do but never really tried. And then make time every day, to do that thing. It doesn’t matter if you suck at it. It is the nature of humans, that if we try to do things, we get better at them. So just do it.
You artists out there who make a living from your art, this counts for you, too. Do art just for its own sake – something not related to your job. Make art like you used to when you were a student. Or before then. Art for the hell of it. Art for the fun of it. Art for the art of it.
Do a drawing a day.
Write a letter a day.
Take a walk a day
Do some push-ups a day.
Read a chapter a day.
Play a song a day.
Be grateful for one small thing a day.
Meditate for ten minutes a day.
Practice being un-dickish, just so there is one less dick a day.