3 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Artists & Their Practices

Taylor Hartfield · Mar 27, 2023

While contemplating a piece of art, have you ever thought deeply about the artist who created it? Whether you’re nodding yes, unsurely shrugging, or firmly stating, “absolutely not,” I believe there are 3 meaningful life lessons we can all learn from artists and their practices.

Artists—whether musicians, painters, or dancers—absorb their environments and transmute them through their choice of expression. Dance, for instance, has always been one of my favorite mediums. How magical is it that our bodies speak through movement? The same applies to the way a writer can impact their readers through the intentional orchestration of their words. Words…another one of my favorite mediums. My first love, actually.

In my adolescence, I was very observant of all the events occurring around me. The world was so new to me, I kept picking up on little things here and there. Little things that I’d ultimately translate through poetry and short stories. The process of writing felt so natural to me. At first, it started with me filling up journals with whimsical storylines. Then, I shifted to typing pages and pages on Microsoft Word.

The practice of writing takes me there. “Where’s there?” you may wonder. Well, from my experience, there isn’t a place that you can describe. To me, it can only be felt. That mystical place that turns dreams into things, ideas into reality… It feels like a transformation in a beautiful—though sometimes painful—way.

In a way, it reminds me of the journey we call life, which brings me to the first lesson we can learn from artists.

Lesson #1: Artists teach us to create the world we want to see.

As human beings, we’ve seen time and time again how powerful our thoughts are. For artists, having an idea is one of the essential parts of creating that final “some-thing.” Before any brush stroke, camera flash, or guitar string, there was a point of inspiration before the masterpiece was channeled into the physical realm.

Yet probably even more crucial than having an idea is having a good sense of practicality. “Faith without work is dead,” is the perfect reminder of this often missed step of the process.

Personally, I’m a thinker. I have Gemini and Virgo placements in my zodiac Big 3. Two mercurial planets, which means I tend to stay in my head a lot. And that can be a hurdle when it comes to making it past the ideation step. Take this essay for example; it took me months to write it. But that’s neither here nor there—the point is, you need a little bit of both to make it happen.

The final product of any piece, dream, or goal comes after a combination of subconscious work and taking action. And that feeling that comes after seeing it all appear is priceless. I recently asked Alicia Christine, a multidimensional artist from Cleveland, OH, if she could try to describe it [that feeling] to me. “It actually feels very crazy sometimes when I take a moment to sit still and realize these things externally are coming from a lot of things that I’ve planted internally,” she says. Alicia has many strings to her bow: She’s a photographer, poet, owner of an all-natural skincare brand, and energy healer. When later talking about the power of internal reflection, she mentions that, as a healer, her work exudes through every form and has impacted her personally. “A lot of the fight was done internally with the faith to pull it out like, do I really believe in myself? Or do I really have the confidence to even put myself out there to have someone else believe in me the way that I believe in myself?”

When it comes to creating art, Joi, another Cleveland artist, speaks candidly about what the process means to her. “The good thing about art that I love is that you’re never done; even if you think you messed up, you can always add or take away.” This is precisely what I would expect from a painter that primarily creates abstract artwork. As in, you have to give yourself the freedom to step away from your masterpiece when necessary and return to it when you can—or even want—to add a new layer to your puzzle. But Joi says it best: She’s never done. “That’s how life is – you make it what you want it to be.”

“That’s how life is – you make it what you want it to be.”

Joi Carter

Lesson #2: Artists teach us to fully immerse ourselves in everyday life.

A few years ago I created an entire blog and concept shop, ARTE, as an ode to embrace an observant life. It started as a reminder for me to find beauty in the small things we sometimes take for granted: The sun on your face, the first sip of your favorite drink, and so on.

This way of living has taught me to experience my time here more deeply, making me more in tune with my body, emotions, and feelings. We call that mindful living. And guess what? Conscious living is like a ripple effect. You start with one aspect of your life, and it suddenly applies to your whole existence. Consciousness becomes a lifestyle, and everything that life entails becomes more interesting. More beautiful.

Artists draw inspiration from the tiniest things in life—and I mean, the tiniest. What they ate, a conversation they overheard, a memory from the past… They feel every moment in their bones. In their soul. When I think about finding beauty in the mundane, the first thing that comes to mind is Still Life, a work of art that’s inspired by everyday items that are considered still. For example, a tea set, flowers, or a piece of fruit. I learned about this genre back in junior high school, when the entire class had to create a piece. For a few weeks, my classmates and I thoroughly analyzed every side of a scene that our art teacher set up with a glass bottle, fruit, and painted drinking glass.

Learning about reflections, depth, and perspective through these ordinary items taught me a lot about celebrating life’s simple pleasures that mean everything in the grander scheme of things. And luckily, I got to grow up seeing the piece I created displayed in my kitchen for well over a decade, deepening my newfound understanding at the time.

Using inanimate objects as a subject matter is like dipping your toe in the world of being hyper-observant. Taking an artistic snapshot of something you laid your eyes on for an extended amount of time doesn’t stop at a painting or drawing. A photograph is a literal snapshot of a moment in time that others may deem unimportant. But the capturer saw the best part.

Photographers are mindfully aware of the world around them and take pride in documenting those moments.

Alicia, the photographer of the bunch, has much to share on how everyday mundane life inspires her. “It inspires me to awaken parts of everybody that they’re letting sit still because they’re doing the everyday. If I take a photograph or document something and someone looks at it, and it captivates them, it’s like yeah, there you go, open those eyes a little bit, snap out of it!”

The more you intentionally observe, the more you discover. Precious Wallace, a multidisciplinary artist & creativepreneur, talks about a photo of her brother that she’s had for years since he passed away. We constantly revisit photos and, over time, their meanings can evolve. “I just took a picture of my brother and redid it as an illustration to change the narrative. It’s such a simple illustration, but having that and seeing it now does something for my spirit.”

With that being said, we shall keep in mind that too much of anything can backfire. My advice is to observe, yes. But to observe in more of a let-it-flow type of way. To feel it all to let it pass through you versus getting stuck in the process. We went through the first lesson on gestation and the second on awareness. Now comes the third most essential point.

Lesson #3: Artists teach us the power of letting it all out.

There’s a process that transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way, and that is reflected in every piece of work manifested into the world: The practice of alchemy.

Masterpieces were formed from small observations, things those artists couldn’t bear to keep inside. Sometimes it shines a light on injustices in our world. Other times it calls artists’ hidden shadows to the forefront. Creating that type of art can be healing, but when artists find themselves stuck in those emotions, it can do the opposite, potentially driving them to insanity.

Repressed emotions, feelings, or thoughts in our own lives can be looked at the same way. Carl Jung describes it as the shadow, a dark side we all have within. A part of ourselves that must be faced and acknowledged in order to see the light. To truly heal and transform, the tough truths have to be confronted. Most importantly, they must be released.

The process of creating art or building something from nothing has the potential to teach you some of life’s greatest lessons, and healing is a huge part of that. So, each artist I’ve spoken with agreeing to that sentiment wasn’t a huge surprise.

As Joi puts it, “it’s a form of grounding yourself,” one of the best techniques for easing internal instability. She continues: “So, I utilize that time when I get to work on my craft because I am working on my mental health. I really can’t get through the day without it.” On her end, Precious shares how her own journey has led her to that inner acceptance. “What has started to ground me more is the fact that I truly get what it means now when people say that home is not a place. Like, I have so much refuge inside of myself.”

For Alicia, the healing part comes when the art is almost mirrored back to the artist. “You can see your stuff [art] out there and see that it’s actually touching other people—but then sometimes, it’s touching you… You get to sit in this reflection and be like: Wow, look at how beautiful my growth has been, or look where I was then and look where I’m at now.”

What comes out on the other side of that observation not only impacts you but can help others in their own unique journey. Sharing your story matters. Precious takes us through a recent one she put out into the world. “I have a new series of illustrations called ‘My Them’. It’s every part of me that I think I am. All the lives that they’ve lived and the life that I’m currently living. It’s only fair that I show them to the world because, hopefully, it inspires others to tap more into themselves.”

“There’s an inner artist within all of us. Be inspired to find your own.”

Taylor Hartfield

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Featured image courtesy of Alicia Christine

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