How To Become A Better Artist

Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things, and their torment is to succeed in expressing the world of the ineffable.”

This powerful statement was made by the Polish poet Karol Wojtyla (who later was elected Pope John Paul II) in his seminal Letter To Artists.

This torment to become a better artist has haunted me every day of my life.

Unfortunately, the times are rare (compared to a lifetime of searching) that I step away from the canvas or stage feeling as though I have managed to express even an infinitesimal aspect of the ineffable. This gift (is it a curse?) of artistry seems at times a delicious agony.

So, I have penned these letters for at least two reasons…

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First, I feel called to mentor artists. Based on the context of the previous words, one way to describe a qualified mentor would be, “an influential supporter who has searched for the hidden meaning of things for a longer time than you, and has succeeded in expressing the world of the ineffable in tangible ways.”

A young artist recently traveled quite a distance for a mentoring session at my favorite hometown coffee shop. As we settled in, he exclaimed, “I’m so honored and excited to be able to sit at the feet of the “grand ‘ole man.” At first, I was somewhat offended, but as the morning progressed, I realized he wasn’t calling me old (which I’m not!), he was just saying, in what he felt a complementary manner, that I was older than him and therefore qualified as mentor.

I am fairly confident that my age (and time of searching) is more extended than most of you who read these letters. It is one of the few unexpected gifts of an older age to be called “grand.”

Second, I feel compelled to encourage artists. Most creatives tend to be the “lone ranger” type. We are also our own harshest critics. These two combined traits lead to much higher than normal occurrences of discouragement and depression.

These letters come from deep places of depression but also, thankfully, from a place of resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with life’s torments without falling apart. Encouragement forms a protective layer—an emotional resilience—to safeguard an artist from becoming overwhelmed and disabled by the difficulties of daily life. When a person is encouraged, the heart itself toughens up, so that it develops what Steven Pressfield in his brilliant book, War of Art, calls “resistance” from the devastation of depression.

As you peer into my soul by means of these letters, my hope is that you will have a transcendent experience of creative mentoring and encouragement.

May your art “succeed in expressing the world of the ineffable” helping to affirm beauty which has the power to open the human soul to a sense of mystery and transcendence.

5 thoughts on “How To Become A Better Artist

  1. I’m wandering back through my feed-reader, and stumbled on this old post… Thank you for writing it. And thanks a bunch for humoring my questions in Chicago. That conversation breathed a LOT of life into my creative soul.

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