Creative people often take from experience – plucking random occurrences, people, and life events, and placing them in their work.
It is critical that an artist have experiences they can draw from to invigorate their art, to give it a more human quality. This makes the work automatically more relatable, and no matter what medium the person is working in, an audience wants to be able to relate to it.
Everything – from family drama to fantasy novels, to horror films, to folk songs – must give the consumer something they can see themselves in.
Take a work such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. These books are set in very fictional environments, involving elements that do not appear to have much basis in reality. But they resonate.
At their heart, these aren’t even works of fantasy, but rather, studies on what it means to be human. At the centre of their plots, they involve jealousy, greed, power, and love.
These are universal themes. Even people who aren’t into fantasy or sci-fi (such as this writer), can relate to the works at least slightly.
For the creative individual, it is critical that whatever you decide to release to the public incorporate elements such as universally-relatable themes. But how does one go about making them as all-encompassing as possible, so that the widest audience possible can be reached?
Obviously, it doesn’t take much effort to realize the meaning of love, or jealousy, or family. It’s almost guaranteed that at some point, you as a human being will find some way to imbue your work with these themes.
But that’s the lazy way to go about it. Artists don’t want to be so passive in creating their work, they want to get involved, get their hands dirty, get deep into it.
For this, you have to get outside. I don’t necessarily mean going out into the woods and walking among the trees – unless your goal is to paint trees or write poems about nature, in that case, the simplest thing is the best thing.
What I’m suggesting is to really get out there. Go do something wild (as long as it doesn’t endanger your legal status or the welfare of yourself or others), something impulsive, something totally. Freaking. Crazy.
Take a vacation. Even a trip out of town works. Go to a farmer’s market or an arts festival. Observe the fruits, the paintings, the people walking around, talking to one another.
Absorb it all, then go home and paint or write about it. Even this little excursion should fill your head with new ideas and relatable things to work with. Very few people don’t know what an apple looks like or what a folk song sounds like. Even those with hearing and sight difficulties probably have some idea of what an apple or a guitar is.
Think about the best story you’ve ever read. It probably didn’t involve somebody sitting at home and watching TV while drinking a beer. It could have, but something more interesting would have happened during the goings-on. No, the best stories almost always involve events derived from experience.
That said, there is still good to be had of experiencing everything. Perhaps a commercial for toilet paper becomes a fantasy story about the characters in the commercial. Could the couch or chair you’re sitting on become the inspiration for a new painting?
I had a professor one time who gave one piece of advice that stuck: Read the news. Obviously, this is great advice for keeping informed, but his reason for suggesting we read up on current events is to always have something to write about.
Especially with world news, there’s never a shortage of interesting things to derive inspiration from. What makes it better is that, although you probably haven’t experienced the things being reported on, you have a frame of reference to go from – and, more importantly, your readers probably know enough to at least infer what happened.
The larger point to derive from this is that there is no bad thing about the experience. If you’re talented and creative enough, anything can become fodder for the creative brain. The important thing is that you tie your experiences into whatever it is you’re creating and that it makes sense to the audience.