Art is an expression of life that transcends time and space. We must employ our own souls through art to give a new form and a new meaning to nature or the world.

~Bruce Lee, Tao of Jeet Kune Do

When I say, “artist,” what comes to mind?

I’m guessing your brain is conjuring the image of a reclusive practitioner brooding over their creation, lamenting a world that misunderstands their genius.

Or maybe you think of the patient sculptor slowly carving art from a block of stone.

Or, perhaps, a musician sitting at a piano, scribing notes on a sheet of paper.

Or even a writer humbled by the empty page.

None of these are wrong. They’re all characters we consider to be artists, culturally accepted portraits perpetuated by the media.

But, art is so much more.

To live is to do the work of art. And just like other arts, living isn’t reserved for a few lucky individuals. Rather, it’s open to anyone who chooses to live deliberately and own their path, wherever it takes them.

The Practicing Artist

A Practicing Artist is someone who adopts the skills and techniques of painters, sculptors, writers, designers, musicians, scientists, philosophers, and theologians to live life in a way that aligns with their inner essence.

This inner essence is the authentic self. It sounds like it should be easy, that it should be a natural condition of being human. After all, we descended from the trees and grew our big brains, so we should be more perceptive. Unfortunately, it’s not easy, and in many ways, it’s not the natural order of nature.

So what’s a human to do?

It’s all about mindset and how we approach the work. This is not typically taught in school. We’re provided with a handful of techniques and a method of execution, but beyond that, it’s up to each person to figure out the rest.

My experience and study artists of all trades and types — from fine arts to design to engineering to computer science — has revealed a set of base principles to start on your inner journey. By living these principles, we can begin crafting our own lives.

Some of them may be helpful as you consider your personal principles. Here’s a broad list in no particular order:

Everyone is born an artist.

We all begin as artists, inventing each day as we start life. As we grow older, we become pragmatic. Influenced by cultural programming that teaches us to suppress who we are in favor of familiar behaviors and paths, we begin to lose our way. As life’s pressures mount — work, family, making a living — we lose touch with our natural creative selves. Maintaining a beginner’s mind is essential to openness and creativity.

The path to true freedom lies inward.

Freedom does not mean that we live in a world without constraints. What good is a world where we aren’t challenged to improve ourselves and make things better? True freedom comes when we know who we are and act according to our nature, living in harmony with the world.

Open heart, empty mind.

The artist seeks to create works that are a true reflection of their humanity and their place in this universe. This condition of pure authenticity is only attainable through continual work. When we empty our minds and open our hearts to the world, anything we dream of is possible.

Align outer actions to inner essence.

Oneness — the alignment of action with the essential self — comes only through the practice of making something with your whole self — mind, body, heart, spirit.

Reflection leads to learning to wisdom.

We often say that we learn by doing. We do learn a little. But the real learning happens after we’re done. Acquiring wisdom is a matter of living life and pondering the results. Take time to reflect on the work you did. Not just what it took to complete it, but how did it feel, what could you have done better, what would you have done differently. It is only through this process of reflection that we can better understand who we are and our place in the universe.

Return to a state of childlike wonder.

Today, our access to a burgeoning knowledge bank is unfettered, and yet, the more we know, the less we know. Much of this knowledge is speculative. We can’t know everything. Nor should we. Grow your knowledge organically, but take the opportunities to gaze upon the world through the eyes of a child and see it for the first time. Marvel at a sunset. Find the good in others. Share it all.

Accept nothing at face value.

Be curious. Ask questions. Don’t accept the world as-is. Always drive for deeper understanding of how things fit together, how they work, even if you think it doesn’t matter because you can tap into the world’s largest database. The world is beautiful in its complexity, and we can only begin to understand it if we remain open to all the lessons it can teach us. To live is to learn.

Work is play; play is work.

As a child, your only job is to play and reinvent your world. That is the work you do. There is no notion of a job as a set of activities misaligned with your inner essence which you are the subject to. There is only play and the limits of possibility set by your own imagination. Work should be an experiment. It should provide the opportunity to discover through success and failure who we are. Work should be a path to wisdom, not an endless affair.

Excellence in action leads to quality output.

Don’t aim to create quality work. Instead fall in love with an excellent process and quality will arise as a result.

No straight lines.

Dispense with the notion that there are straight lines to anything. Physics has demonstrated that everything in our universe is built on a curve. So why do we assume that we can travel in straight lines? Keep moving forward and the path will reveal itself to you, at times serpentine and wheeling. You can only know the path looking back. To follow someone else’s path is a fool’s errand and will lead to imminent disaster. Shape the world in your vision.

Stories are the currency of human experience.

Human beings are creatures built for narrative. It’s how we construct meaning in the world. Without narratives, we would not be able to make sense of the madness of our lives. Through narrative we build connections to other human beings, understand ourselves, and get a sense of how the world works. It’s imperative that we share our narratives openly and constructively with others. Trade them liberally and find deeper connections with the whole of humanity.

This act of reflection will help you begin to form your unique principles along your journey inward.

Now get going and put them into action. The world is missing your creative gifts.