Gaining a Creative Education By Studying Masters

There are times in our creative development when we need or want to learn something and there’s no teacher or class immediately available. In this day and age, we have a lot of options at our fingertips. Libraries and online sites offer a wide range of resources or others who practice your art that you can turn to for advice, guidance, or even inspiration. Depending on your craft, you might be able to find a local group to work with.

This is also usually a good time to take a look at those in your field that you look up to. I don’t mean just go spend more time worshipping them and figuring out some cool (read: creepy) way to let them know how awesome they are.  I mean you need to sit down and really look at their work. Ask yourself what it is about their work that you enjoy? How do you react to it? Do you simply admire it? Does it inspire you in some way? Do your creative heroes do something in their work that you wish you could emulate in your own work? (Don’t knock it. Remember, emulation is a valid form of learning. It has been for centuries!)

When you take the time to study favorite artists in depth, you become an expert on them and learn more about how to develop the skills and techniques you would like to bring into your own work (once you’re past the apprenticeship phase of your study). You learn how to identify what makes their work theirs, and can from there figure out how to make your own work yours. You become familiar with their voice, and from that learn how to make your own voice shine through your work.

It doesn’t matter if you take several years or just a few weeks to learn what you need from your analysis. It just matters that you learn how to apply your analysis (rather than copy from the expert, which you will do at first).

Another thing to think about is that you most likely have more than one favorite artist in your field, which means you’re going to go through this process repeatedly. But because you are an individual, with your own personal favorites, you really will develop your own voice and style as you combine what you’ve learned from analyzing these artists because no one else likely has the same set of favorite artists influencing them.

Now, it’s your turn. Make a list of other artists in your field that you look up to. They can be professional or amateur. Next to each name, write down why you admire them. Then pick one to study, and don’t give up until you’ve figured out how to let your admiration of their work help make your own work better.

After I wrote this, I saw this great video by Nic Askew and DML Research Hub on mentoring. If this post has at all spoken to you (or even if it hasn’t), check it out!


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