There are two strands to any form of art: the technical ability to execute a piece of art well and the imagination needed to visualize something worthwhile, exciting and original.
Acquiring technical ability requires training. Depending on the degree of natural ability you start with, your personal circumstances and the medium in which you are working, you will probably use a blend of learning through doing and learning through specific training. You might join a club, sign up for an online course, or take a formal qualification. As you acquire technical skill, you can begin to produce more and more competent and expert pieces of work.
Some technically very skilled people never quite move on to become a true artist. Their work is beautifully executed but unoriginal and, dare I say it, slightly boring. To produce results that can be properly described as being art you need to bring creativity into play, and this requires imagination.
Most of us are imaginative as children. We play, sing, dance, draw, paint and build unselfconsciously. We love make believe and stories; building dens and losing ourselves in another world. Gradually as we grow up most of us leave this imaginative world behind us. We become habituated to passing exams, pleasing our bosses and paying the bills. Given enough time, we can lose our imaginative ‘muscle’ almost completely.
Fortunately imagination is something that we can bring back, if we recognize that it is lacking and set about training ourselves up. As most skills can be applied across different disciplines, imagination can be developed across a whole range of activities, and the benefits will gradually appear in your art.
Read books. Watch more challenging and engaging television and films. Listening to radio plays and programmes is fantastic – as some one famous once said, the colours are better on radio. Cook something different, using new herbs and spices. Go to the theatre, museums, galleries concerts and exhibitions. Join a club. Take a train journey. Find out about other cultures and ways of living.
New experiences, and new ideas are all around us, and all the things we see and hear can stimulate and influence our own ideas. When you see or hear something that excites or intrigues you, wonder how it has been achieved and ask yourself “What if?” and “Could I?”. What if I tried that burst of colour, but applied it to a subject that I enjoy working on? What if I tried a different medium? Could I paint this scene, or capture that object?
Remember that no idea or inspiration is ever wasted. Keep a notebook to jot down your ideas, or the places you have visited that inspire you. Keep a photo record to come back to, or sketch out what you have seen. In art there is no such thing as a bad idea (well, not intrinsically) but many ideas cannot be moved forward in their current form, or at the current time. Sometimes it is necessary to leave an idea to grow by itself, and when you return to it weeks, months or even years later, coloured by the imagination you have developed in the meantime, suddenly new possibilities present themselves.
Finally, in the early stages of developing an idea, don’t be too self-critical. If you are too ready to shut down ideas because you think they won’t work, then you will be shutting down on your imagination and creativity, closing doors instead of opening them. There is plenty of time in the later stages to engage your critical faculties as you develop and complete a piece of work and choose the pieces to display or sell.