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Do Better Tools Make You A Better Artist? (Of Course Not)

by Shane Mehling
creativity

expensive tools don't make you a better artist

A guitar pedal. A four-hundred dollar camera lens. A fully-loaded laptop. A workflow app. Sable hair paintbrushes.

“If I only had that,” you think, “then my art would finally be able to live up to my expectations.”

We have all fallen into the trap where we’re convinced that the only thing holding us back from creating our masterpiece is that we just don’t have the right tools. But unless you’re buying a magic wand, we tend to overestimate how much value we’re getting for our money.

It’s not surprising — you see that rich, successful artist and see the cool stuff they use. The artist may even come out and say that they use this stuff exclusively and imply that it is a creative necessity. But how many of those wonderful necessities ended up transforming you into a genius phenom after you decided to hit the Checkout button on Amazon?

The answer is probably none. While sometimes we need new gear, and sometimes the high-end stuff is really the best way to go, it won’t make you a harder worker or birth a career’s worth of innovative ideas. What it will probably do is get used for a few weeks and when you aren’t finding yourself being contacted by the Guggenheim you’ll start having buyer’s remorse. You may even do worse work than before you drained your bank account.

Or even more troubling, you don’t even allow yourself to face this reality. Instead you say, “Well, since I can’t afford it, there is no reason to do my project.” Then not only are you missing out on doing a cool, fulfilling thing, but you’re bummed on yourself for being broke.

But the thing is, most every project can be figured out if you remember a very important word: improvise. If you really want to do it, if it is something that you really think needs to be finished, then you will find a way that doesn’t require praying you’re in your great-uncle’s will. Classic movies, books, paintings, photos and records have all been done by the stereotypical starving artist. If they could create their dreams for a discount, so can you.

The electronic musician Squarepusher is known for his expertise when it comes to the gear he plays. He is a tinkerer who takes apart his equipment and figures out new and interesting ways to get sounds out of it. He says the first “instrument” he played was a radio he built as a kid. He didn’t need an AKAI MPC or Pro Tools or a trip to Guitar Center to make sounds that were interesting to him. He just needed some curiosity, some know-how and a lot of creativity.

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Shane Mehling

Shane Mehling is a freelance writer and editor who plays in noiserock bands.