When you imagine a person creating a work of art, what comes to mind?
Many of us think of a writer tucked away in the corner of a quiet room, a painter isolated in a smoldering attic loft, or a designer's eyes fixed with precision on a laptop screen for hours on end, and we unwittingly internalize the myth that making art is a solo sport.
Yes, you must often do the work alone, but an artist is never truly alone. The artist’s sense of self, vision, and craft are often forged in the fires of community. Many of the most resonant, and ultimately impactful creative voices are honed through their interactions with others they respect and trust.
As Virginia Woolf put it:
Masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.
To make art means to make bold, unique decisions in the face of uncertainty. Without a strong community around you, it’s easy to lose sight of who you are and what you care about, and over time your body of work becomes compromised via a series of seemingly inconsequential decisions.
The courage to persist, and to ultimately build a body of work that reflects your unique passions and perspective, comes most readily from the people around you. Yes, you must be brave to do brilliant work, but you shouldn't walk alone.
In Louder Than Words, I wrote about the importance of forming your “collective”, or a group of people who will help you stay inspired and hone your voice until it resonates deeply. There are a few kinds of people you should seek out as a part of your collective:
Who speaks unvarnished truth to you? You need someone in your life who will help you stay aligned and focused, who will help you invest your finite creative resources in places that will reap the best return. A mirror reflects back the truth to you.
Who tells you things you don’t like now so that you can achieve results that you love later? In isolation, you can start to want to be seen a certain way more than you want to actually be a certain way. This is a problem, because it means you are not operating from a place of authenticity, and your work will suffer.
The mirror calls you on your nonsense, and helps you stay true to your compass, even when you are less than certain about the right path. Do you have someone who tells you the truth? If not, find them, because your voice isn’t just what you say, it’s how you are heard by others.
Who fills your well? You need others in your life to inspire you and charge your creative batteries. Who plays this role? (And, on the other side of the equation, who do you play this role for?)
Who introduces you to new ideas, shares inspiring resources with you, or pushes you to go into uncomfortable places with your art? You gain so much by seeing through the eyes of people you trust and respect.
A shallow response would be “I don’t need a muse. I have Facebook/Twitter/etc.!” Yes, these tools increase your awareness, but awareness is not the same as knowledge, and knowledge is not equivalent to wisdom.
Conversations with your community will help you turn your insights into impact by creating accountability for you to take action. It’s action that defines reality, not knowledge. Inspiration has a shelf-life unless you act upon it.
Who is lighting your path? Not all the way down, but just for the next few steps? When doing creative work, it’s not important that you see the finish line, only the horizon. A mentor can shine the light a little ahead of you and help you see what’s coming next.
Mentors don’t have to be a hundred steps down the path, only enough to give you perspective. There have been many mentors in my life who have identified obvious problems, put books into my hands at just the right time, or helped me navigate a tricky decision. There wasn’t a formal “mentorship” agreement, we were just in community together and leaning on one another.
What difficult problem are you facing right now that you need to seek help with? Don’t let today pass without taking action. Isolation due to pride or self-reliance can be the most damaging kind of all.
If you want to develop a resonant creative voice, you must lean into the power of community.
Don’t allow the myth of the “lone wolf” creative to cause you to struggle in isolation. Form your collective, draw upon the wisdom and insight mirrors, muses, and mentors, and you’ll soon find that you’re doing the best work of your life.
We are giving away five copies of Todd's newest book, Louder Than Words: Harness The Power Of Your Authentic Voice. Just share this post and leave a comment to enter. This giveaway ends at Noon CT on Monday, September 7.
Who is in your creative collective? Do you have a mirror, muse, and mentor? Share in the comments.