An artist and teacher I admired, Mary Gilkerson, recommended finding the five values you express in your art. As I dove deeper into this, I believe Mary was referring to life values — our big Why for everything.
Why Life Values?
That Why makes us original, both in life and our creative work.
Art should reveal something about us to others AND to ourselves. It’s an act of self-discovery and revelation. Art, any art form, is about communication and connection.
The more we understand what energizes us and let it show up in the work, the easier it is for our fans and collectors to find us. When they recognise a kindred spirit in your work, they pay attention. They want to see what you will do next. When a piece really touches them, they want it in their personal environment where they can enjoy it anytime.
Message sent and received.
What do you value?
So…have you given your own values any thought? Could you name at least one or two things that are important to you? Can we find some of them in your work?
Here are some tips on how to identify your personal values.
- Start with your own work. Study it yourself but even better…
- Ask friends (and fans) to tell you what they see in your work. How does it make them feel? Often, they notice things we don’t because values can be like the water fish swim in. The fish don’t notice the water because it’s part of their world. What makes us unique is often invisible to us because it’s just who we are every day.
- Look through old journals and other personal writing that you do. I did that and discovered some themes that came up over and over both on this blog and in my private journals and notebooks.
- Just as revealing, pay attention to what makes you angry. That often indicates a value that’s being stepped on.
Life values is a big topic but taking some time with this will give you a better understanding of why you paint what you do. Why certain colour combinations reoccur. Possibly even why you choose the medium you work in and why it’s important to you to make art. It will also help you write your Artist Statement and talk more thoughtfully about your work.
Our lists are ‘living’ and may change as we do. When I was a young mother, family was at the top of my list. Now that they’re grown, that focus has shifted. Family is still important, just not in the top five.
Here’s what I’ve identified so far…
- Top of my list would be the natural world.
It’s a huge part of who I am and my life experience. It was my safe place as a child. As an adult it provides a sense of connection to something bigger than myself.
- It’s important to pay attention
For too many years I ran on high octane, always multi-tasking. It was only as I got older that I realized I needed to pay attention to what was in front of me. Taking time to notice the details helps me slow down and appreciate life.
I discovered another gift of paying attention when I did a painting for my daughter from a photo she’d taken on her travels. Years later I found myself in the Yukon, looking out over a lake and feeling I’d been there before while knowing it was my first time. A little disorienting.
Then I saw it. I was looking at the scene my daughter had asked me to paint. Due to observing the details in order to paint them it became part of my own memories. Even though she wasn’t with me in that moment, we shared something.
- To share beauty and joy with others
I wrote about this in an earlier post. I love to create things that bring others joy. What I’ve learned from that is that it’s okay to do something just because I love it. Not everything needs to be measured in dollars.
- Curiosity and challenge
I list these as values because they are so much a part of who I am. I enjoy challenging myself with something new and learning more. Curiosity is usually the driver of that. It starts with “I wonder…”.
I never want to stop learning and trying.
I’m on the lookout for a fifth value to add to my list but so far, this feels right.
Please share one or two of your important life values in the comments. Who knows, maybe we’re kindred spirits!
P.S. Sadly, Mary Gilkerson recently passed away. However, her Youtube channel is still active and now includes her course content for art and the business of art. I suspect her family released them as a way to honour her and the passion she had to help other artists to succeed. I highly recommend accessing them if you’re an artist.