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Four Ways to Turn Past Hardships Into New Art

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Your Hard Work Isn’t Wasted

If you’re creative but feel like success has so far eluded you, it’s important not to forget or discount the things you’ve already done.

Even if they don’t feel like things that would impress anyone else, they’re part of what has made you what you are now. Everything you’ve done has contributed to your unique mixture of knowledge and skills.

None of your hard work is ever really wasted – unless you decide to disregard it.

Try this:

Make a list of all the things you’ve achieved over the years, no matter how small they seem, and keep it at hand in case you ever feel ‘unqualified’ to make your art. 

Don't let your disappointments crush you.

Don’t let your disappointments crush you. hoto by Thomas Leuthard (Creative Commons)

Regrets, I’ve Had a Few

For too long, I was caught up dwelling on past disappointments, and my creativity and general happiness suffered. It’s not healthy to wallow in these things, but sometimes it’s difficult to get past them.

Obviously we’re all hardwired to avoid pain and suffering, but ultimately it’s an inevitable part of life for everyone, even if outward appearances suggest otherwise.

For an artist of any kind, there is some small comfort in the fact that hardship can help further our understanding of other people’s situations and compassion for them.

Try this:

Think of what problems people might be struggling with right now, who you could help with your art because you’ve been through something similar to them in the past. 

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We’re all Idiots, Sometimes

I have acted like an idiot so many times in the past that I’ve lost count. As a result I know I’ve upset and hurt people, usually because I didn’t understand the impact of what I was doing at the time.

I can’t change what I’ve done, but being aware of my own mistakes makes me a little more patient and less judgemental about other people who do seemingly idiotic things.

Try this:

If there’s anyone you’re angry or upset with, compare what they’ve done to some of your own mistakes over the years. Maybe you can find it in your heart to forgive them, and yourself, and free up space for new ideas to flow into your life. If you can’t, channel that anger into something creative instead!

Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, aka Cutie and the Boxer

Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, aka Cutie and the Boxer

Hard-Earned Art

Also, as difficult as it is to go through, having suffered or struggled in life means our creative work itself is infused with more soul and depth.

This is obvious when you see/hear a great singer pour their heart out in a performance, compared to a highly marketed pop act with no depth who mimes to a backing track. Even someone who doesn’t have a technically great singing voice can be powerful because they know how to get raw emotion across.

That kind of hard-earned, heartfelt soulfulness is one of the big differences between great art and throwaway or forgettable art.

The other night my wife Melissa and I were watching a Storyville documentary on BBC Four called Cutie and the Boxer about a married Japanese couple who are both artists and scrape a living by in New York (see above picture).

The film really shows the hardships that they’d gone through in order to keep making their art and living the life they wanted. And yet they kept going and were still together. (It’s well worth a watch.)

The truth is, dedicating yourself to something, whether it’s art, or a business or an important cause, is not easy. It can be a rough ride. But at least you can be secure in the knowledge that you really tried to achieve something important.

Try this:

Decide right now that you’re not going to give up on pursuing your creative dreams, because you don’t want to look back and regret that you didn’t at least try.

What do you think? Does art help you deal with past hardships?

Main image: JD Hancock (Creative Commons)

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6 Responses to Four Ways to Turn Past Hardships Into New Art

  1. Diana Ecker February 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    What a great post! I really like the term “hard-earned art.”

    • Milo February 19, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

      Thank you Diana. I’m glad that phrase resonated with you! Looking forward to checking out your site/blog too, it looks great :)

  2. Vishnu February 20, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    Love this post, Milo! The first point is priceless – regularly reminding yourself of your past achievements is a great way that i use to remind myself that I have done it before. And I’ve accomplished in the past so again in the future. And in my writing, I use not only regrets but past hardships, to help others along on their journey. I think that’s one additional thing artists could do and why art is so divine – it has a way to help, serve, guide and lead others in their own journeys.

    My art does help with past hardships but what really sets me on fire (inspires me) is using the art to be a light for other people’s paths.

    • Milo February 20, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

      Thanks Vishnu. Love this line:

      “My art does help with past hardships but what really sets me on fire (inspires me) is using the art to be a light for other people’s paths.”

      I agree, and that’s what I was getting at with the second part. I’ve definitely seen you doing this very well in your writing :)

  3. Elaine April 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Oh – painting has taught me one big life lesson in this respect. Occasionally I’ll throw my heart and soul into a piece and be absolutely WILLING it to work. And it doesn’t.
    So, it gets turned around (face to the wall) and left there for a couple of weeks.

    Quite often the painting works when I turn it back around or I see one bit of it that makes me very happy and I’ll crop or gesso over the rest of it. Sometimes I turn it upside down and it works – but there’s always SOMETHING to find by simply shifting the way you look at it or by changing your focus.

    It’s magic and I love it.

    • Milo May 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      Brilliant Elaine – love this. Just shows the power of perspective!

Keep up the good work!