A Year of Living Artfully
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
One artist discovers what it takes to create 365 pieces of art in 365 days. And how it gave him courage.
I didn’t plan this in advance; in fact, I stole the idea from a friend who got it from someone else on New Year’s Eve: Take an Instagram photo every day throughout the year and share it. I thought, “I’m an artist, not a photographer. It will be too much work. What if I can’t make something every day? What if I fail?”
That was January 1, 2013. The day I made the first of 365 pieces of art titled “365DailyArtProject” on Tumblr and Facebook. After that, for the next 364 days, I made and posted a piece of original art every day throughout the year. This is the only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever kept.
With the freedom to fail, a remarkable thing happened. I started making good work.
In some ways, this year was like any other. It had seasons; it ran hot and cold. Some days were luxuriously long and others impossibly short. I had times when I saw myself grow as an artist. I had times when everything fell apart. And there were times when I felt more alive than ever before. I fell in love with the work, only to have it break my heart more than once. And like any other year, time passed. I grew older.
I do lots of routine things each day, but I learned that making art every day is different. There is no routine to creativity. But there is discipline. There is intention and focus. And, when one is making something, there is a palpable joy in working hard.
I know this now with great certainty. It is one of the best lessons of this year of work. But that certainty has only come since the project ended on New Year’s Eve. Now I see that we live life going forward but understand it in reverse.
The first 100 days were full of questions and self-doubt. I feared I’d run out of ideas. I’d just go dry. “Where do I get inspiration? How many more collages do I have in me?” This only got worse on April 18 — day 108 — after a friend, David Lang, innocently posed a question on Facebook. He asked, “Will he make it to 365?” David was making a gentle joke, but it wasn’t funny to me. I was running scared. I became convinced I couldn’t keep going. I decided to make whatever came to me since I’d be quitting soon anyway.
By the end of the year, my courage to create from what I didn’t know was greater than my fear of failing with what I did know.
With the freedom to fail, a remarkable thing happened. I started making good work. Nine of my best pieces of the year were made during the next three weeks. I was released from my self-imposed judgments. I got out of my own way. Learning to defer judgment saved the project — and in many ways, saved me.
Doing art every day became the lens through which I experienced daily life. Wherever I might be — traveling with my son in Canada on motorcycles, teaching in Beijing, speaking in Poland, vacationing in Mexico — my life was reflected in the work. I learned to have a beginner’s mind. Being curious became more important than being right. Seeing differently made me think differently. The more present I became, the more interesting the world became.
In the fall, on day 325, something new happened. I’d been doing the work one day at a time. 365 still loomed as a huge number. But on November 21, I realized there were only 40 days left; only 40 more chances. I was starting to mourn the end of the project. Like life, I would run out of time. I went for broke. Again, my art got better.
Throughout the year, I started each day with a blank slate. I filled it with what the day gave me. I grew happier and more confident in my ability. The stuff of daily life became the springboard for encountering the unknown — the blank page. By the end of the year, my courage to create from what I didn’t know was greater than my fear of failing with what I did know. On December 31, as I posted “365/365” — the last piece of the year — I saw that I’d come full circle. And now, when people ask me about what I’ve learned from this work, I tell them that it all comes down to a simple six-word story. The story of my life:
Trust the process. Do the work.