Voice Finding: Detangling Values And Naming Virtues
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Oh hey, I transferred my blog to a fancier platform. This article is from March 2019.
Find your own voice and strengths by tracing what you value most in art and creativity.
Path-Finding Keeps The Void At Bay
I’ve been on a big voice-finding kick the past couple seasons in my personal work. The need stems from perpetual difficulty prioritizing between a jumbled heap of pet interests and media, and the aftermath of over-adapting and redirecting through a labyrinth of life hazards. In the next couple posts I’d like to share some journaling exercises that I’ve set for myself and found helpful. Maybe they’ll help someone else too. Voice finding is a subset of path finding, and its virtues expand beyond improving crafts and tackling career goals. It helps give meaning to our confusing and fragile lives, and meaning keeps the Void at bay. We have a right to search for self-knowledge, purpose, and symbolic significance, and to create these from scratch when they can’t be found by looking. These exercises are not just for artists. Everyone has a creative drive, and a birthright to exercise that drive in their own ways. Art and craft open gates to meaning for the viewer, consumer, and dabbler as well as for the full-time artist. We all forge different paths in life, and we all find ourselves shaped by a bespoke cocktail of challenges, rules, opportunities, and restrictions. Sometimes life and Void team up to bop our voices around and rearrange the paths beneath us. Other times, we grow out of our old voices before growing into new ones, and get all quiet and lost in the gap between. Either way, it’s painfully normal to feel stuck or disconnected, wondering what to make, why, and for whom—wondering what we value, and how we can rise to meet the values and virtues we most admire.
What Does Art Do For You?
Reckoning with what to make and why means reckoning with what we most value in our respective fields, and in life. Work and craft are forms of service. Recognizing where we receive service and what we most enjoy can point right to what we most value in our own efforts, and how we most want to serve others. The arts are a great place to examine values, whether or not you make art yourself, because we tend to consume art of our own volition, in our own time, according to our own tastes and interests, and often at our most vulnerable and difficult moments. Art makes the perfect gauge for preference, and preference reveals values. Art does so many things for humanity broadly, but what does it do for you personally? Of the many things it does for you, what matters most? Try the following journaling exercises:
Make a list of your current favorite artists, in any medium or genre. Writers, musicians, crafters, performers, chefs, designers, and inventors all count as well as visual artists. Draw on a healthy range of fields and media. You might have a lot of faves! In this exercise, we want to cut to the qualities that affect you the most, so try to keep it under twenty. If needed, you can brainstorm a longer list, then narrow it down. The last time I did this I settled on fourteen names. It doesn’t have to be exact, but you should have at least five and no more than you can sort through in greater detail. Choose artists whose work you visit frequently, and who get under your skin. Start with works that have changed your life or point of view, voices that punch you straight in the feels, and artists who’ve comforted and inspired you the most. Envy can be a strong indicator of admiration and value, so if you do make art, think about artists who make you go “damn! Why can’t I do that?” Don’t weigh how long you’ve loved these works too heavily. Personality and preference evolve over time, and phase changes can trigger bouts of soul and voice searching. You may be questioning your tastes and values precisely because they’re shifting, which means that works you’ve discovered and appreciated more recently might be even more relevant than the stuff you’ve liked since you were five. Long-held values do matter, but recent loves and interests have an important place in this picture.
The Gifts They’ve Given & The Virtues They Hold
Going one name at a time through your favorites list, take a moment to review each of their work. Listen to a song, read a passage, visit their online portfolio, rewatch an episode, and so on. Think about what each artist has given you, and write out a list of reasons you return to their work over and over. What do they offer, and what do you show up for and take away? Your lists can be a brief bullets, or written out in paragraphs, in as great or little detail as you like. Cover each fave in a separate list of gifts, values, and qualities. What makes you love them?
The last exercise is to review everything you’ve written about your favorites and look for running themes. First scan for repeated words and phases. Copy these into bullet points in a new list. Next, read between the lines. Are there any unstated themes that connect the qualities you’ve listed? Think about archetypes, stories, and big-picture patterns. Add anything you think of on this second pass to your running themes list. Now it is appropriate to track which artists and works you’ve loved the longest. Running themes tied to these guys likely indicate core values and reflect lifelong archetypes. Themes tied to recent interests can point out where to pivot next. See if your running themes list can sort into categories like core values, methods, media, aesthetic, purpose, and service. Not all the above may be represented among your pet themes, and you may think of others I haven’t, but you’ve likely got leads on multiple sides of the creative process here. The qualities on your running themes list highlight art’s most important functions in your own life, and mirror what matters most to you. These are qualities to investigate, prioritize, and start working into your own endeavors if you haven’t yet. Once again, the creative process applies to many facets of life, and we all utilize creativity whether or not we make art. You can take what you find here and apply it to a craft, a relationship, a business, a research project, parenting, teaching, volunteering, spirituality, learning a new hobby—almost anything.
Let me know how it goes if you try this in your own journals. Got any notes, tips, or variations you want to share? Add a note or ask a question in the comments! Need more journaling prompts? Sign up for my newsletter to receive exclusive shop talk, process shots, art tips, and creative exercises!