Struggling to come up with an idea? Look in the bin.

Last week at college we watched a short interview with performance artist Marina Abramovic in which she gives ‘advice for the young’. Although I’m not exactly young, the interview had an impact on me and I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since.

The lady speaks lots of sense

The lady speaks lots of sense

The interview consists of her answers to unspoken questions and they are quite important questions for me at this point in time, questions I have been asking myself.

Firstly she asks: how do you know if you are an artist? This is interesting because I’ve often wondered what do you have to do to ‘be’ an artist. I haven’t done much creating since about November, I’ve done a lot of thinking (towards my current college project) but not much doing (partly through fear). I’ve been questioning myself: Am I still an artist? Are you an artist if you have a day job and you only do arty things in the evenings? Do you have to live and breathe art to be an artist? Are we all artists in some way? Is observing the world enough to be an artist or do you have to make something based on your observations? Can someone who paints purely for themselves and does not show the world their work call themselves an artist? Her conclusion is based on whether you have ideas coming at you and as a result you are compelled to satisfy the urge to create. I agree with that. This means that I can continue with my day job and let the ideas come to me at odd moments and so long as I do something about them, eventually, I’m ok. Ergo, I must be an artist. Good!

Her next question is: what makes a great artist? A great artist, she believes, is prepared to fail. I agree that failure is crucial (this idea gives me hope). Failure is very scary. The fear of failure can compromise your creativity. The fear of failure stopped me going to art college in 1990. On the day we watched this interview, I was feeling quite down because I’d recently heard that I hadn’t been selected for the Oriel Davies Open Exhibition. Even though I hadn’t expected to get selected, it felt like a rejection. Watching this interview helped me put this rejection into perspective. I had ‘failed’ and it was fine to fail. If you don’t ever fail (what a boring life) you might never feel the need to change or move on. The real ‘failure’ for an artist is to churn out the same stuff over and over again. Failure allows you to take greater risks and change direction.

Which way should I go?

Which way should I go?

She then asks: what else do you need to be a great artist besides failure? The answer is courage. Since starting my foundation degree course at Shrewsbury College I have had many moments of disabling fear: fear that my ideas are awful, fear that my art is awful, fear that I won’t be able to do the necessary to achieve my ideas. I usually go through a pattern of: idea come to me, doubt about idea, research about idea, doubt about idea, carry out idea, doubt about idea. I need more courage to have confidence in my ideas. A great artist has this, or at least a great artist carries on despite lack of confidence.

Education the path to good ideas?

Education the path to good ideas?

One important piece of advice she gives towards the end of the interview she says she was given by a professor when she was a student. That is that if you get to the point that you can draw anything you want, even with your eyes closed, you should change hands. This gives you a fresh starting point. Routine kills creativity. If you just stick to what you are good at and what you know, you fail.

This guy is a great artist - he hasn't had his one good idea yet

This guy is a great artist – he’s just had his one good idea

The best artists, she goes on to say, only have one good idea. If they have two, they are a genius. I haven’t got there yet so there is still hope.

At then end of the interview she describes an exercise she carries out with her art students which is to spend three months writing ideas on pieces of paper. They are then asked to throw what they consider to be the bad ideas in a bin, and keep the good ideas. After the end of three months, they are asked to look at the ideas in the bin and reject the ‘good ideas’. Those binned ideas are always the best, she concludes.

Look in the bin for those 'good' bad ideas

Look in the bin for those ‘good’ bad ideas

So next time I have to empty the bin, I might just take a peek inside.


Marina Abranovic ‘Advice to the young’, 2013, YouTube. Available from: [last accessed 5 March 2014]




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1 Response to Struggling to come up with an idea? Look in the bin.

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