What makes an artist a great artist – reinvention and innovation


What makes an artist a great artist is not only a mix of skill and story. To me, a great artist reinvents her or himself and innovates as well. Innovation is my strength and repetition is my weakness. That raises for me the bold question, am I destined to become a great artist then?


To put it bluntly, I see many creative people repeat themselves. A good friend of mine said many years ago about the music industry: it is the same old orange they keep squeezing. To reinvent oneself is to dare, to try, fail and try again. That is to say, if you don’t accept failure as part of the process you stop to proceed. But like with skill and story, reinvention is not a binary measure either.

Skill benefits from repetition, and thus one needs to stick to a specific way of doing for a while. But how much time or repetition do I require before the skill level is high enough? How much time or repetition is too much as it has turned into craft only.

There is something, I forgot the name, that explains how people who pick up let’s say a sport for the first time, are relatively good at it. It is the lack of expectation to achieve a certain level that plays a significant role here. This ambivalence towards the outcome, the pure joy and lack of need to perform are essential to staying playful.


Playfulness is an essential ingredient in innovation too. During my time as a Service Design consultant, I helped companies to see new opportunities. The concepts connected with the reality of engineering, market place and finance. It was more often than not the culture and fear by the managers that halted a project. The word Innovation I heard daily but saw practices sparsely, to put it mildly.

As an artist, you can innovate freely, but how comes it happens relatively little? One form of innovation comes when you mix media such as pen and pencil, paper and clay, cardboard and metal. I write these combinations without even considering if they make any sense, but this is the playfulness that is so important

My question is often, what happens when I mix medium A with medium B? Or story A with story B? Or medium A with Story C? As an artist, why do I care if it has been done before, I have not done it before, says the little voice inside my head.


As an artist, a great artist, I push the boundaries outwards. I expect to fail many times. I assume the work looks dreadful then. However, sometimes a little gem pops up, an unexpected present that helps me to leap forward and enter new territory. The clue here is that I recognize this little gem and hone it so it becomes part of my tool chest.