3 Ways to Know Your Art is Relevant

“An honest beauty is to reflect the times,” Nina Simone said in the interview in the video above. “How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That, to me, is the very definition of an artist.”

What on earth would Ms. Simone say about today’s art scene today if she were alive? If you were using the 2014 list of GRAMMY nominees or turn on the radio or television as a illustration of our entertainment scene, would it be an honest reflection of our times?

Here is my take on three ways to know your art is relevant:

(1) Is Your Art Your Truth?

Some would argue that it is not necessary for music, film, books or paintings to depict what really is. The argument is that creativity often encompasses the fantasy of life. Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying “Everything you can imagine is real.” With that being said, the underlying understanding is that art is borne from the observation, imagination, and mind process of the one presenting to us their art. So, if what you are presenting is not your own interpretation, your own observations, your own imaginings, then what is it that you are actually creating? I’ve written before about the difference between producers and creators and the foundational difference is that creators are the artists– the one who draw from their own truth, not dependent on replicating what is already out there. Your art must speak your truth.

(2) Does Your Art Avoid Redudancy?

So, let’s say your art is your truth. Have we heard this before, seen this before and basically lived through this exact same expression in a different shade of yellow? Relevant art typically helps evolve the conversation if a conversation is to be had about the work you’ve created. When we think of conversation, imagine the conversations around three very different movies– “Gone with the Wind”, “Roots”, and “12 Years a Slave”. All of these movies showcase the African slave trade in the United States and all done in a different way than the other. LeVar Burton, who starred in “Roots” said in a recent interview that it is important to not get complacent with what has been done, but continuously challenge your audience. He says, “I think moments like Roots and 12 Years a Slave are opportunities for art as a cultural force to step forward and lead the way.”

(3) Are You Challenging Your Audience to Use Their Brain?

We all want our audience to like our creation. But, sometimes, if we’ve been given positive feedback in the past off of old things we’ve created, we start to replicate and rehash the same thing until our goal is not to create and express in a way that is fresh, truthful to ourselves and authentic, but, instead, it is redundant and possibly boring. We aren’t challenged, so we don’t challenge our audience. But, challenging our audience is what makes our art relevant. Even though art is always associated with feelings and emotion and references to “resonating” or “heart-warming” moments are often connected to enjoying art, a lot of thinking goes into what it is we are perceiving, accepting into our consciousness, and considering for consumption (for the first time, or again.) Are there moments that you have left open to interpretation? Have you presented a story in a way that is neither linear nor neatly ended? Have you confronted cultural stereotypes by making them centerpieces of what it is you’re depicted? You challenge your audience to think when you purposefully step outside of the comfort zone of what they expect and present an interpretation that may not have been presented before. When your audience’s paradigm has been shifted, when they are messaging you for answers to their questions of “what did you mean when you…” or “what happens to such and such after such and such left them there”, or “I love the colors you used, what did they symbolize and why those colors?” you have challenged them to use their brain.

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a writer and editor of several books, including the anthology Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul.  She offers writing services for those seeking content and outlining, editing and creative coaching services to authors who self-publish. She is currently preparing to tour her production IN HER WORDS. Contact her at KhadijahOnline@gmail.com for a free consultation.

Read other Creativity Tips by Khadijah:

Self-Publishing 101

#1 Pitfall Artists Should Avoid

Choosing the Artist Stage Name

5 Tips to Rejuvenate the Artist Spirit


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