As you're making new year's resolutions this January, 'art practice' is probably on your list. Artistic goals are wonderful, though some are much more plausible than others. In this week's post we'll explore the art of setting (and following) manageable goals for your art.
In my experience the single most effective strategy for goal-setting is specificity. All too frequently I hear someone claim that year they're going to "get better at painting". Though great in theory, what does such a goal truly strive to accomplish? A much more effective goal would expand on the idea a bit. "Improve the accuracy of my color observation", or "learn to draw straight pen lines without a ruler" are much more specific. Specific goals lead to direct action, where vague goals can feel overwhelming. Let's consider the goal to draw straight lines without a ruler:
Turn big goals into small list items
Since my goal (straight lines) is so specific, creating a list of activities to practice is very straightforward. One activity might be to gain confidence drawing marks with a ballpoint pen. Filling page after page with lines, ovals, hatching, and curves would help improve your pen fluidity. Next, watching videos on YouTube or reading about freehand straight line technique would build a foundation. YouTube videos are generally much more effective when you have a specific search term. Finally, you could create a worksheet designed to challenge your straight line drawing skills - and repeat it 10 or 15 times.
As you can see from this simple example, a single goal can be broken down into smaller action items. These items, in turn, are much more approachable because they are measurable. The real trick is breaking large, vague, ideas into manageable action items.
Hold yourself accountable
One key to smart goal creation is creating measurable tasks. It's hard to know if you're 'better', but it's easy to know if you're 'more accurate' (observing color, for instance). Even in art, many aspects of your work can be measured -- so make sure to keep them in mind when designing assignments for yourself. For the color observation example, you could pick a target accuracy to strive for -- say, 90%. To achieve this, practice an exercise (like the video above) a few times per week and keep track of your results. Even if you don't write these results down, it feels good to make measurable progress.
Avoid long-term goals with a 'daily' component
We respond strongly to the feeling of success and failure. Success is fun and builds confidence, while failure damages morale and hurts momentum. A goal to 'draw a self portrait every day' for a year is functionally the same as 'draw 350 self portraits. The subtle difference is all about perception. In the first scenario, missing a single day amounts to failure. In the second example, not drawing a self portrait on one day simply slows the overall pace. After all, what if you drew two portraits the next day? I don't care how dedicated you are, everyone has unexpectedly busy days. Since you're creating assignments for yourself, the rules are completely up to you. Don't set yourself up to fail.
What are your resolutions for 2014? We'd love to hear about them in the comments!