Stages of Artistic Development

Posted: August 22, 2011 in Artists' Corner
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If you are a musician, a writer, a painter, performer, or artist of any type, you will go through stages of growth and development. Just as we have physical and socio-emotional development, we have artistic development. It is possible to get stuck in any of these stages and refuse to move forward, but if an artist keeps going, there is no telling what he or she may accomplish.

Stage One: The Hobby Stage

This is the seedling beginnings of a budding artist. This stage can happen at any age and at any skill level. It occurs when a person tries something artistic for the first time and enjoys it enough to try it again. This person becomes fascinated with learning and immerses himself in the craft in order to become better and better. Though he may face challenges and frustrations along the way, something compels him to keep at it. There is something internal that causes him to continue despite what critics may say. There is an element of courage that is required for the hobbyist to continue. At times, a person who provides encouragement in this delicate stage can mean the difference between forward movement and stagnation of this person’s talent. The hobbyist must answer the question, “Is this artistic expression important in my life?”

Stage Two: The Identity Stage

Now that the artist has identified the high value of this artistic expression to her life, she must now be made aware of her identity as an artist. The person who likes to sing is now a Singer, the person who likes to write is transformed into a Writer. In order for this to happen, there is an internal struggle that must be resolved. At its core is the question, “Am I talented enough to be called an artist?” You will know if someone is struggling with this stage if they hem and haw when you ask them if they are an artist, they will say things like, “well, I like to paint…” In the identity formation stage, the artist is experimenting with her style and the message she wants to convey through her art. She is in the process of becoming increasingly courageous to show her work to others. She is deciding for herself what she likes and doesn’t like and is able to anchor herself to the compass within.

Stage Three: The Excellence Stage

At this stage, the artist is answering this core question, “Am I willing to work to become what I want to be?” There comes a time when every artist must answer this question to become better at what they do. If an artist becomes dissatisfied with small gigs or for doing things for free, he must be willing to deliver a higher quality product. The artist must force himself to be honest about his weaknesses or perfectionistic fears so that he can tackle them and move forward. This is when he develops the courage to let his critics propel him forward rather than to ignore or reject any criticisms that may arise. At this stage, the artist will seek out professionals to show them where to set the bar. This is the stage at which the artist will develop his “chops” so that he is capable of doing things he never before thought was possible. Many a potential artist has been lost to the casualties of the excellence stage. Popular author Malcom Gladwell asserts that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to attain a level of proficiency in almost any pursuit. Once he has attained this higher skill level, he can be more discerning about the projects he chooses.

Stage Four: The Addiction Stage

As an artist improves, the high that she will get from her performance will drive her to achieve more and more. She will deem more and more of her time worthy of this pursuit. Willingness to spend time doing it over and over again is so important. This is usually the stage at which the artist will go professional, choosing to forsake a “regular job” to do this full time. This artist’s identity is now so linked to what she does that she is talking about it more with others, refusing to turn down any opportunities to perform, and being willing to make herself known out there in the great big world. She is also learning to respect others for what they do, and develops mutual respectful relationships in which she now has the capacity to collaborate with others. The question to be answered at this stage is, “Is this expression something I want to be known for?”

Stage Five: The Leadership Stage

The full blown artist is now confident in who he is, confident in his capabilities and skill, and still willing to learn more from those who are better (there is always someone better). He cares about the craft so much that he is willing to spend his time looking for people to invest in. He has experience from which to speak and is able to call people through the various stages that he has overcome. He develops a habit of pushing himself to try something he has never tried. Now that he has learned the rules of the craft, he has permission to carefully break them in pursuit of something new. He leads not only in teaching, but by example. Generations to come will be thankful for his contributions to the art form as a whole. The question that is answered in this stage is, “What sort of legacy will I leave behind?”

With each stage, artists assume more and more risk. If you are an artist who sees yourself growing in these stages, taking chances and enjoying what you do will characterize you more and more. No one can force you to pass any of these stages, rather you will be driven by an internal desire that cannot be explained. It takes a greater and greater amount of faith to see and reach for something that has not yet been attained. To all you artists out there, I hope you will have the faith to take the risks– that your fears will drown in your desire and that you will make great contributions to the world.

  1. Kendra says:

    This is so great. I can find myself in here as well as others. Thank you for sharing!

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