Attaining fluency in creative mediums.
February 12, 2015 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of questions about the world! There are many different ways to explore those questions, but in order to explore them at a level that satisfies me, I have to investigate using mediums that I am fluent in. As of this moment, I don't think I am fluent in anything. Creatives of Metafilter, give me your thoughts and anecdata!

In my lifetime, I want to develop insight (dare I say wisdom?), and to do that, I need to attain fluency in some sort of expressive medium. I have been thinking a lot about what fluency means lately to me lately... Piano, for example, is one thing that I am competent, but not fluent in; I enjoy music, can read and play music, but I am nonetheless limited technically such that I cannot begin to ask questions and solve problems through piano. Another example: writing is probably the closest medium that I feel truly "fluent" in. Words are rich and beautiful to me, and I feel that while I have a long way to improve, I have at least achieved a level of technical competence in writing such that there are relatively minimal speed bumps between my mind and the blank page. When I write, it is simply me against the limits of my imagination, as opposed to me brushing up against the consequences of the fact that I didn't practice my scales and arpeggios frequently enough as a child.

I've also dabbled in violin, painting, drawing, photography, creative nonfiction writing, humanities research, programming, poetry, and laboratory research. I enjoy and have a baseline proficiency in all of those things I've just listed, but I never really got to a point where I felt like a fish in water as a painter / illustrator / poet / what-have-you.

I have varying levels of optimism about eventually (sometime within the next 30 years or so) attaining fluency in each of those mediums. For instance, I feel like at this point in my life, I may still be able to achieve "fluency" in visual art. I have maintained a sketchbook through medical school and know that I have the ability to improve, and potentially become "fluent" in drawing to the extent that I can eventually use illustration as a means to ask more conceptual or abstract questions. On the other hand, I'm much more doubtful about piano, even though I so, so wish I could get back into playing again.

So, where do I go from here? I think I'm at a point in my life where I am mature enough to understand how much unglamorous hard work and discipline is needed, above all else, to attain anything meaningful. I also am at a point in my life where I understand that it's okay to mess up-- so much of what was previously holding me back was this self-consciousness about the end products of my creative pursuits. I'm over that now. I just want to work hard, put out high-quality work that I can be proud of, and have the freedom to express and investigate the things I want to express and investigate.

My question to you is: have any of you picked up a creative medium later on in life (after age 25 or so) and gone on to achieve reasonable fluency in it? I'm particularly interested in hearing from you if it had a steep-ish technical learning curve (say, computer programming, or tenor saxophone) but were still able to achieve a level of competence such that you were capable of being creative with the new skill. What facilitated and enabled your learning and creative process (for example, finding a community of artists, having a supportive partner, having an obsessive personality, having some exposure to the craft as a child, quitting your day job, getting a long-awaited MFA, being organized about it and putting "creative time" in your calendar...)? Any essays, biographies, books, talks... that are pertinent to this topic would also be much appreciated.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I started teaching myself the basics of photography around 2007/08, aged 27. I'm now at the point where I'm making things like this.

Around early 2013, I decided that, having been told in school that I was incapable of doing art, I'd start proving my art teacher wrong by going to life drawing classes. I'm writing this from a café before going to my weekly drawing class tonight, as it happens.

I'm now at the stage where I love drawing, and I'd be lost without it.

The only things that I have found work for me are:

- Putting in the hard yards
- Having someone to tell me it's worth me continuing (which I struggle to believe, sometimes).

It's different strokes for different folks, really, but honestly much of my growth has been about hard work and failing upwards. The way to Carnegie Hall is, as ever, practice.

Oh, and this video, when I'm feeling low.
posted by gmb at 10:55 AM on February 12, 2015

Fluency isn't just expressing yourself, but being able to understand others as well.

I found classes like music appreciation, dance appreciation, and art appreciation really opened up a lot of understanding for me. If you don't have time for a university class, museums and performing groups sometimes have lectures, and these can really help to understand more about an artists work, and by extension how to tackle expressing yourself in your own work, even if that's in a completely different medium.
posted by yohko at 11:58 AM on February 12, 2015

There are contrary arguments, but there's a lot of truth to the simple principle: Ten thousand hours of practice makes you a master.

You can log 10K hours in three years if you're obsessive enough.
posted by localroger at 8:17 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FPP that is kinda relevant: Art of a Life Time
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:02 PM on March 10, 2015

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