You Aren’t Born an Artist, You Become One

Recently, I finished up a new book on what it takes to be a creative professional. The book comes out in June, but over the next few months, I’ll share some lessons. Here’s the first one.

There’s an old quote attributed to Picasso that says we are all born artists but the trick is to remain one. I think that’s just not true. We aren’t born an artist. We must become one.

How Anyone Can Become an Artist (The Rule of Re-creation)

You aren’t born an artist. You become one.

Jeff Goins

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Of course, are all creative. Some of us write poems and others imagine a better future for our children, but we all have it in us to make things, to turn nothing into something, and bring a new creation into the world.

This is the magic of being human.

In the Bible, God creates the earth and all that’s in it, but he gives Adam and Eve the responsibility of naming the animals. My interpretation of that moment is he’s saying, “Join me in this.” He’s calling us to be creative.

We all have a call to creative, so that makes us artists in a sense. But what does it take to become a professional artist, and not just a hobbyist? It takes a lot more than just being born, it turns out.

Here are three steps to take if you’re considering a career in the arts.

Step #1: Lean in to your fear

We all know people who discovered their creative potential later on in life. The world may have beaten it out of them, or maybe it never existed at all. Then, they experienced a creative awakening.

When Brianna Lamberson decided at the Tribe Conference she wanted to write a book, she was doing something bold. She was deciding to become someone she wasn’t. And this scared her. But she decided to lean in and do it, anyway.

After 30 days, she had a 30,000-word manuscript for a book and launched it, making $800 in the first week. How did she do it? She imagined herself feeling unafraid and did the very thing that terrified her the most.

And it worked.

This happens to some artists late in life, and for some much earlier. But for every creative genius, it must happen. And by that, I mean, you must make a choice. You must become more uncomfortable with standing still than with taking risks.

You must become more uncomfortable with standing still than with taking risks.

Jeff Goins

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No, I don’t believe you are born an artist, but I do believe you can become one.

Step #2: Take baby steps (and become what you practice)

So, let’s say you decide to be a painter or a novelist or even an entrepreneur. Let’s say you hear this prompting and decide to act. What happens next? Next, you practice.

When a young lawyer and new father named John Grisham thought he might have it in him to write thrillers, he got up a little early every morning and went to his office.

There, he would write for the first hour or so of the day. The goal was a few pages of his novel. He never studied writing and wasn’t sure he necessarily wanted to be a writer. He just knew that you don’t become something by waiting or wishing for it. You become something by doing it.

And that meant if he wanted to be a writer, he was going to have to write.

He didn’t write a lot. Most days, it was just a few hundred words. It took him three years to write that first book. And when it was done, he couldn’t get any major publisher to look at it. No one was calling him congratulating him on the new book.

So, he wrote another.

While he was writing the second book, he bought a bunch of copies of his first book and decided to promote it himself since the small publisher had done little to support him. And then, the second book was sold to a major publisher and became a movie, and then, he started calling himself a writer.

Re-imagining who you want to be is an important step to re-creating your destiny. I have encouraged thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, to call themselves writers if they want to write. But it doesn’t stop there. You can’t just call yourself a writer. You also have to act like one.

And that’s true for all artists.

You can’t just call yourself a writer. You have to act like one.

Jeff Goins

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John Grisham is a bestselling novelist today because he had the discipline in one of the busiest seasons of life to chase something he wasn’t even sure would make for a career. But he was curious enough to see, and that meant he had to practice.

Imagine how that must have felt, three years into a project before completing it, all while practicing law and raising small children. Imagine how discouraging that could have felt and how he must have been tempted to quit. And then imagine publishing that work and seeing little success.

And then, imagine starting the next one with, perhaps, no expectation of anything changing. All because you were curious.

This is what it takes to be an artist. Not to be born with any special abilities, but to imagine a new, creative life for yourself and then to create that life. Not with big and giant leaps of faith towards the unknown, but with small and persistent steps toward an unknown destiny.

I know many creatively successful people, and almost all of them began this way. Not with a big break or a sudden realization but by gradually believing in another life and acting their way into it. For many of them, it took years, sometimes over a decade. And if it happened sooner, they often didn’t know what to do with their newfound fame and success.

Step #3: Leave the familiar

Adrian Cardenas was a professional baseball player who after his first year in the major leagues quit the game to become a filmmaker.

After his first year of playing for the Chicago Cubs, Adrian realized that his past decade of practicing the sport was, in fact, not leading to this life. Playing for 40,000 people, mastering the craft of baseball. It wasn’t for him. And it took a moment like that to realize it.

So what did he do? He quit. He started over. He did the scary thing that so many of us struggle to do, even when we feel this call within us: he reinvented himself.

I call this the Rule of Re-creation, and it is an essential principle to living a more creative life. When the world calls you one thing, you must break out and become who you really are. Before you get to create great art, you must first re-create yourself.

Before you get to create great art, you must first re-create yourself.

Jeff Goins

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Years ago, I quit my old blog and decided to start a new one. I stopped calling myself a “marketer” and began calling myself a writer, even though I had no book or any significant work behind me at this point. I chose to believe I could be something different from what I’d always been.

I re-created myself.

I suppose you could look into the past and see me winning a sixth grade spelling bee or helping my peers in college with their term papers, you might be able to deduce that I had always been a writer. But if you were to ask me at twenty-seven years old if I was a writer, I would have said, “No.”

Becoming a writer for me was a choice. And this is true for anyone who wants to do anything creative in their life, like write a book or paint a masterpiece or even launch a business. This kind of act doesn’t happen to you. You chose it.

Sure, you may feel called to this work. It may come to you in certain quiet and vulnerable moments when you’re wondering what your life is about. You may feel drawn to it as something certain and at once inexplicable. But the fact remains: you don’t become an artist until you decide to be one. If the calling comes, you still must answer.

You don’t become an artist until you decide to be one.

Jeff Goins

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Why am I telling you this?

I’m sharing this, because I believe you have important work that deserves to be shared. And I also believe this world does a poor job of encouraging us to be creative. Our places of work often aren’t great places for this work to be shared, and sadly our homes where we were raised weren’t, either.

So, if you want to be an artist (whatever that means to you), it will require some boldness, a certain tenacity. And the journey won’t be easy. But I hope you’ll take it anyway, because we need your work, and we need you to share this work that only you can share.

Here’s what it takes in practical terms:

  1. Not everyone is born an artist. But we all have the power to become artists. To start, we must believe this.
  2. We must take tiny, daily steps in the direction of our creative calling. We must practice and be prepared for rejection, failure, and the tedium of life.
  3. We must re-create ourselves by leaving the familiar and reimagining a new future for ourselves. This may require us to quit one thing and transition into something else. Maybe the thing we quit is a mind-set, or maybe it’s a job. But we will have to leave one thing to go in search of something new.

If we do these things and don’t quit, then we just might become what we dream of becoming. And if we do these things in hopes of one day being an artist, we are in luck. Because these are not the things you do to become an artist. These are the things that artists do.

If you are believing in a different future for yourself, constantly reinventing who you are and what you do, taking small but intentional steps towards becoming that thing, then you are not an amateur or a hobbyist. You, dear reader, are an artist.

So, get creating.

One great way to start sharing your work with the world is through a blog. Tune in for one of my free webinars this week on how to launch a blog and get your first 1000 subscribers!

Click below to register for the date and time that works best for you.

What kind of artist are you? What do you need practice daily in order to act like an artist? Share in the comments.

15 thoughts on “You Aren’t Born an Artist, You Become One

  1. Excellent advice here!! I recently went back to something I had not done in years…drawing. As it turns out, I did a fairly good job for what I was attempting. I’m a huge believer in not giving up on the creativity that we seem to have had much more of as a kid.

  2. While I feel you can be creative at any age, I strongly disagree with you that it is a lie that we are born artists. There are some people who show amazing or definite natural talent from the time they can express themselves. Others excel in fields that, say, the artist doesn’t. For instance, I am a writer and a portrait artist and a graphic designer. I have been writing since I learned to write the alphabet, making up stories, and I won my first portrait contest at six years old in a citywide newspaper contest. It’s an “aptitude” if you will. Yes, someone can learn to write, they can learn to paint, in the same way that I can learn, if I cared to, algebra or other mathematics, or website coding (which I have forced myself to learn). But these are not natural born talents for me. The person who learns at a later age may find they have a hidden talent, but I honestly don’t feel it would ever be as natural and “huge” as the natural born talent. That said, I say, “Go for it” and make whatever your dreams are come true. The person who learns can be very, very good at what they do, whereas the person who was born with the natural aptitude for the art and doesn’t use it or doesn’t continue learning, will waste their talent and never succeed at it.

  3. Thanks Jeff! I came across your article at exactly the right time! While being in a transitioning phase and apparently a phase of re-inventing myself, too! Glad, I found your ‘Intentional Blog Course’ a couple months ago, which is part of that journey. Thanks again, Mel from Mel’s Coffee Travels.

  4. Jeff- Congrats on completing your latest book, can’t wait to read it. As for your post, I can relate. I retired from law enforcement 5 years before my pension maxed out because my creative life couldn’t wait any longer. It all comes down to choices.

  5. Fantastic article Jeff. I have recently reinvented myself and I’ve finally started writing children’s books after 14 years as a scientist. I’m even considering leaving my job in research to write full-time. I have always been an artist. I loved art and creative writing at school and I did well at them both. However, I chose to do a degree in biology and then a career in science followed. Well, until now. It was always there, with me… and I recently had the courage to make it my reality.

    It was the best decision I ever made.

  6. I agree with Picasso – I believe we are all born artists – or maybe the better word would be creative. George Land did a study on creativity back in the 1960’s and what he discovered was that young children before they start school – tested at 98% genius levels of creativity. If that doesn’t qualify for being born creative, I don’t know what is. The problem is that by adulthood, according to his study, the average adult only had 2% creativity anymore. So I think Picasso was right – that the problem is we don’t know how to stay artists/creatives as we grow up. Thankfully, we are discovering that it is possible to rediscover our creativity and start living again like the creatives God meant for us to be.

  7. Comment on Jeff Goins statement.
    Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 4:34 am
    There is no question whatsoever, You are leading this child of Yours in all aspects of the word ‘leading’. You are directing each step of my way as You promised to do in Psalms 37,
    Psalms 37:23-24
    The steps of a good man are directed and established by the Master when He delights in his way and He busies Himself with his every step. Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Master grasps his hand in support and upholds him.

    This is so true. I speak out of my own experience. I am walking on the 77th year since my birth but! I have been reading the Bible only since 1974. Before 1974 I had no conception that the Bible even existed.

    I was born, raised, extensively educated in Catholicism—the Mother Universal Church. In my Roman Catholic mind nothing ever existed about the whole Universe and God but the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope.

    Even so, in the 42-year’s span since 1974 the Almighty has managed to break through the thickness of my carnal layer. Ha! Forty-two years. Could that be representing the 42 chapters in the book of Job?

    Wow! What a revelation! Just when I was thinking to erase this approach to Jeff Goins’ statement, “No, I don’t believe you are born an artist, but I do believe you can become one.” Just when I was contemplating keeping out of commenting. Just when I decided to keep my mouth shot! Up pops the number 42 and the 42 chapters of the book of Job! How ‘bout that?

    What that got to do with my comment about your interesting article? The truth, it works but! At what cost? Could it be the cost of one’s soul? Heavy thought. I do benefit from your article as per my Master’s leading but! I won’t sell my soul in the struggle to accomplish.

    My dear and beloved brother, no matter what you or I believe or not believe. No matter all our struggles to become whatever. No matter all the hypes of the present and the past to pursue knowledge.

    No matter! Our days have been on schedule. Our days have been written even before we were born into this miserable world of our inheritance.

    So, what is my point? I humbly disagree. We cannot by any stretch of the imagination become what we are not! Picasso’s statement, “we are all born artists but the trick is to remain one.” is true as per the written words whether you or I agree or not. Why? Because that’s the way it is period. No argument.

    Once we ceased the argument, the questioning, the agreement or disagreement, the search—the insidious search to become? The real shines forth as per magic! The artistic nature of our Father/Creator bursts like a beacon to light the way to the rest not yet into the reality of our beings. That’s what is happening in your life as well as in the life of other successful writers.

    It all happens by the power of His love from on high. It never fails. It always avails! Nothing, absolutely nothing of intrinsic and eternal value comes out of our efforts to become whatever we fancy to become. Take it as per the saying, ‘from the horse’s mouth’. Take it from my face on the ground exclaiming,

    “I thought I knew You but! Now I see with my spiritual eyes how wrong I was! I repent in dust and ashes!”

    GOOD NEWS! The Almighty Father/Creator of our beings has a plan. He has a plan to restore us to the original intent for our creation. Now, even now as you read these lines, His plan is happening! Soon He will bring all His prodigal sons to rest, to quit the struggle. To rest underneath His everlasting arms.
    His love in my heart for all, thiaBasilia.

  8. I like to be writing a rhyme
    I do it much of the time
    And all of the while
    I imagine you smile
    And reading don’t cost you a dime

  9. Love the direction of this post and laughed when I saw in recreating yourself when you mentioned stopping calling yourself a “marketer.” I have been calling myself a “recovering marketer!” Guess it is my baby step to making the shift to calling myself a writer. Thanks for your message and look forward to your webinar!

  10. I have a question, sir. Say one is in the midst of re-imagining this life, and taking small, diligent steps as advised, but the ideas a person has are so spread out and numerous that their thought process resemble that of a Jackson Pollock painting. What would be your advice as far as narrowing the artistic creativity and channeling it into something useful?

  11. “We all know people who discovered their creative potential later on in life. The world may have beaten it out of them, or maybe it never existed at all.” –Goins
    I feel that my creativity has blossomed because of the vices of others. Although, I don’t recommend desiring this way.
    Also, “I believe you have important work that deserves to be shared.”–Goins
    I found this to be very inspirational.

  12. Great article!!!! Just fit like a glove in this moment of my life. I always thought I was a zero talented person (coming from a family where everybody paints or do other creative stuff) and i always appreciated the ones with that ‘special’ gift. Recently, I found myself doing some crafts and similar items, which are making a lot of success among friends and I really get amazed by the things I’m doing! I’m even researching on starting a small business or something.

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