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The Artist in Each of Us

First of all, welcome to my new readers. Many of you are coming over from Zen Habits in response to a guest essay I published there yesterday.

The essay is called Three Truths to Creating a Life of Gratitude, and I am grateful for everyone who is following along on my own journey of gratefulness.

Here at the AONC site, I write for artists, entrepreneurs, and students of all kinds, and I am deliberately broad with that statement.

Even though those groups are often categorized separately, I put them together on purpose, because I think they have a lot in common. I’m starting to believe that a lot of us students and entrepreneurs (or fill-in-the-blanks) are actually artists in disguise.

See, I have a theory that we are all artists, even if we don’t know how to draw. (I stole that line from a greeting card I received a while back. My apologies if you were the artist who wrote it.)

The practice of art is not so much about the finished product, but rather about learning to see or hear things differently.

Henri Matisse was once asked whether he looked at tomatoes differently than the rest of us. He said, “When I eat a tomato I look at it the way anyone else would. But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently.”

When I was learning to play jazz music many years ago, it was vastly different from any music I had ever studied. I had to learn so much more! The music theory and technique that I had known before then was not sufficient, and I needed to start all over. By far the most important lesson was to listen well. And let me tell you, learning to listen well is not easy.

Art Forms

My thinking in this direction started a few days ago, when I asked a friend I only see once in a while what he has been working on recently. The unexpected answer he gave me started with, “The art form I’m creating now is…”

I thought that response was interesting, especially because the person I was talking to wasn’t an artist in the traditional sense. He was actually talking about booking weddings and other events for a building– a project that could have been fairly boring. My unconventional artist friend made it exciting, though, and I loved the idea of event planning being his art form.

With that in mind, here are a few lessons from the art world that can be applied to our own art forms, whatever they are.

Look for unexpected relationships. Good artists look for relationships among diverse ideas. This is why I think about artists, entrepreneurs, and students as one large group. Going for convergence, something that I’ll write about more in the future, is the ultimate goal.

For a painter, it’s not about they hold the paintbrush or apply the paint to the canvas; it’s about how they see what they are trying to capture in the two-dimensional form. Similarly, a writer is trying to transpose a world of five senses into words on a page or computer screen.

A business owner, on the other hand, strives to meet a felt need in the marketplace by providing a solution. One of my business mentors was once asked how he decided what to sell. His answer was, “I sell what people buy.”

I thought that was a good response. He looked for unexpected relationships among diverse ideas, and he was very successful as a result of the answers (products) he provided.

Reclaim Your Inner Creative. Here’s another good quote, this one from Pablo Picasso: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

I believe that lost creativity can be relearned and reclaimed. If you’re interested in reclaiming your inner creative, I recommend these classic books on the subject:

All of them apply to many different art forms, even things like building businesses or booking weddings. Whether you’re a “real” artist or a would-be one, check them out at your local library or bookstore.

Also, the Accidental Creative has a nice, free podcast available for download. I started listening to this guy more than a year ago, and I kept thinking he would run out of material… but surprisingly, he keeps coming up with stuff. (He also has a paid service, but you can get a lot of value from the free one.)

Creativity can be regularly nourished. Tools of gratitude, like the Zen Habits Gratefulness Challenge, can improve the world we live in and nourish our own creativity at the same time.

Remember, this applies to all artists, not just the traditional ones.  The best entrepreneurs are artists, because they apply creativity to problems no one has ever thought about before.

The best students are artists, because they understand what they are learning can have far more relevance than in just one narrow discipline.

You can apply art skills to a regular job too, and people will be amazed because it’s so unusual.

Art and World Domination (A Quick Side Note)

More and more people are asking me about the world domination theme we’re building here. Some people love it, some people hate it.

“Couldn’t you do it another way?” I’ve been asked more than once. “It seems so combative.”

Well, perhaps I could, but I think it would be boring. And I also think it would miss the point.

My free PDF manifesto, A Brief Guide to World Domination, will be released on Tuesday, June 24th. On Friday I’ll tell you more about it, and let you know how you can help with the launch.

But for now, here’s a quick hint. I believe we really can rule the world and change the world at the same time. I am completely serious about that, so whether you’re a new reader or have been here for a while, I want to make my stance clear.

It’s good to be clear about your target market. I am writing for artists, entrepreneurs, and students of all kinds, but I’m not really writing for skeptics. Even though I don’t know how to draw, I have enough artist in me to know that the world can be what you make it, not just a flat image on canvas.

How About You… What Art Form Are You Creating?

So now it’s your turn. What art form are you working on? What is most important in your life right now? I’d love to know, and so will others in our growing community.

Wherever you’re reading this on the site or by RSS, think about your own art form. Whatever you do out there, are you creating a beautiful life?


Did you enjoy this article? Please pass it on to others at your favorite social networking site, or share your own thoughts in the comments below.

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  • I agree that we are all artists, no matter what our calling may be. The article linked above is one I wrote about a father of a friend. Some might call him a machinist, or a mechanic, but after spending an afternoon with him, it was abundantly clear to me that he was as much an artist as I am. He created in metal and moving parts. I create in computer graphics. We both create. My hubby is a data analyst and he’d have me think he does dull work – but he can create databases that (to me) do amazing things with information. We all create our own lives, whether we believe that or not, and we are always creating something.

    Yes, I recently joined from ZenHabits – and I am glad I did 😀

  • Cheng says:

    Hello, my name is Cheng and I’m here to take over the world.

    Seriously though, it’s lonely being an artist sometimes. I feel so misunderstood by the sheeple. Truthfully, it’s not easy to separate from the herd and choose to become a remarkable person (I’m plugging one of Chris’ earlier blogs here), but I know the rewards are worth it.

    I believe that art is innate, that everyone is born with the capacity for art. But only a few choose to indulge in their potential. I wonder what a world full of artists would look like…

  • Danny Garant says:

    Creativity, or how common continue to explain how astrology is crap by claiming that adept make themselve change so it seems that astrology when I explain how celestial body can influence a person using electromagnetism theory (I’m an electrical engineer) and quantum physics. They just don’t want to doubt about their certitude.
    Hey, I can even create a Star Wars lightsaber, if only I could find supraconductor and electro-magnet powerfull enough and smaller than my kitchen. Ah! Dreams.

    By the way, my art is solving puzzle. And anything can be puzzling. I’m an engineer cause it’s a profession where we constantly solve puzzles and I was good in math.

    I’m a fan of zen habits since I’m a fan of AONC, means around three months.

  • Karen says:

    Hi Chris! I came over here from Zen Habits too. I really think every human being has the capacity to be highly creative but a lot of us have forgotten how to tap into our creativity, or we just don’t think we’re “creative” even when we are, because our definition of creativity is too rigid.

    My favourite “art forms” are cooking and writing. I also love to knit. Being a good parent also requires a lot of creativity IMHO 🙂

    A book I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to “kick start” their dreams is “Make Your Creative Dreams Real” by SARK. She uses the “creative dream” concept very broadly to encompass almost any type of creative life goal.

  • Chris says:

    @Summer @Cheng @Danny,

    Thanks for adding your comments!


    Yes, I forgot to add that book – glad you remembered. She has a few others out as well, but I don’t know them that well.

  • Andre Kibbe says:

    Being able to draw from multiple disciplines is a hallmark of creativity. Many people allow their varied interests to atrophy in a misguided attempt to make themselves more adaptable (or more accurately, adoptable) to the existing job market, resulting in a slow artistic suicide.

    It’s unfortunate that “art” so often connotes some type of performance skill, like painting, musicianship, or even writing. You’re right: art is more a way of seeing, of experiencing, than just making things.

    “I don’t want to see new things,” photographer Ernest Haas once remarked, “I want to see things new.”

  • I trained as a classical musician, and more and more I am coming to realise that my training had very little to do with “art”. Being an artist is about how you see the world, drawing links between seemingly disparate things, and seeing beauty in unexpected places. My training was focussed on technical skill and following rules – not art at all!

  • Jen says:

    Hi Chris,
    I too came over from Zen Habits. I love Leo’s articles and now have found another resource in you.

    I guess I subconsiously thought of all that we do is art, but I never really put it in words. I recently left the corporate world to start my own coaching business. The reason was I wanted to serve other people, to learn new stuff, and to “create” something. Isn’t that a definition of art.

    I won’t keep my art thoughts confined to my writing and painting anymore. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  • Marlina says:

    Wonderful article. I believe that Art simply involves doing something creative, where creativity is just a word to describe the ability to finding an answer to a question or solution or to problem by “connecting the dots” or as you put it – “looking for unexpected relationships”.

    Negotiating a business deal is as much an art as painting a picture that appeals to the senses.

  • Harlie says:

    Great post Chris. Can’t wait to read the Manifesto!

  • Chris says:

    @ Andre,

    “Being able to draw from multiple disciplines is a hallmark of creativity.”

    I would like permission to steal that excellent observation. 🙂

    @ Everyone,

    You guys are great; I hope you really like the manifesto. More news on that coming tomorrow….

  • The art form i’m exploring now is better living through science, specifically in the developing world. it’s a new canvas for me, rather exciting, and quite challenging.

  • Eve says:

    Thanks for this post! Most of my research is in scientific creativity and it’s great to see someone who believes that creativity doesn’t necessarily have to be artistic.

  • Corinne says:

    In the book “Guerrilla Marketing”, Jay Conrad Levinson states that creativity comes from knowledge.

    As far as marketing is concerned (which is an art form that I am interested in pursuing) the most successful and most creative campaigns come from combining elements in ways that they have not been combined before and that takes knowledge of many different topics. It gives me confidence, and also permission, to take art and music classes even if they are not part of my major because it all translates.

  • Yes, I just mined through some of your archives, Chris, and over at Zen Habits too to find where I first entered your site. This must have been it… even though I don’t remember specifically reading through this post, I do remember the one about the marathon on the open seas. I left a comment there, which I think was my first one here.

    Sorry for the rambling – I started realizing how much I’ve loved this site and how much you’ve taught me. Thanks so much.

    Yours and Leo’s were the first blogs I actually got to watch ‘grow up.’

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

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