Want to Know the Secret to Being a Great Artist?

The secret to being a great artist is being observant. Yep, it’s that simple. Regardless of your level of skill or talent, you can still make a connection with an audience if you simply learn to listen, notice, feel, and experience the world around you.

Ask any writer who is good at dialogue what her secret is and she’ll tell you, “I listen.” I lurk around coffee shops and malls and networking groups and bars and I listen. I listen to how you talk to your children and how they talk to you; how you sound when you’re frustrated and how you sound when you’re happy; what you have to say about a current issue and what you say when you don’t want to talk about it.

Ask any painter how he captures light or color so perfectly and he’ll tell you, “I notice.” I notice how the light streams through closed blinds and hits the plant on the table or how the red in a tulip changes when the sun dips behind a cloud. I notice the way the pink in your shirt highlights the blush in your cheeks or how the color of the wine in this glass changes when I hold it up to the light.

Ask any songwriter how she so perfectly captures emotions in her songs and she’ll tell you, “I feel.” I take note of how it feels to have my heart broken or to hold a new baby in my arms. I stand on the edge of a cliff and notice how it feels to have my toes dangling over the edge and I stand in a corner and feel alone in a room full of people. Sometimes I sit on a swing and pump my feet as hard as I can to remember how it feels to fly.

Ask any dancer how he makes you believe he’s dancing in the snow and not on a bare stage and he’ll say, “I tap into the experience.” I go outside when the first flurries fall and stretch out my bare arms to feel the flakes land on my skin or I close my eyes and imagine a world of white and cold. I turn down the heat in my apartment while I practice, and on the night of the performance, I try to remember everything I’ve ever known about cold and snow and beauty and belonging.

All it takes to be a great artist is to be aware, to take note of the world around you, not rush through it or past it. We all know how to notice. We did it all the time when we were babies and toddlers. We noticed everything then. It’s still in us, we just have to remember how. Try it now. Look around the room. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? And now, how do those things make you feel? In that connection lies your art.

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