How Your Friendships Shape your Art

If you look back on the most successful creatives throughout time, you might notice that these artists didn’t exist in a vacuum. In fact, creatives from Jim Henson to J.R.R. Tolkien to Emily Dickinson had deep, dynamic friendships that shaped their art.

When I think back on my most long-term, positive friendships, they’re driven by a creative impetus. As a child, I wrote songs and would sing in harmony with my friends, forming “bands”, creating our own album covers and dance routines. We took artsy photography and wrote books together, taking turns in the computer chair.

In high school, my friends and I were in choirs, theater productions, and garage bands. In college, we drank wine while painting deep blues and purples on canvas.

Likewise, my husband and I share creative styles and tastes. We often celebrate music and art together for hours into the night.

Even if you’re a solitary artist or writer, your work is not in a vacuum. Your friends shape so much of who you are, your attitudes, and yes, your art.

You’re more likely to befriend someone who is creatively similar to you. 

Studies show that kids are more likely to befriend people who are creatively similar – electing friends who have similar creative knee-jerks and attitudes. From an early age, we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do with our time and what intrigues us. We are intuitively drawn toward people who are like us. We choose friends who enjoy the same books, fantasy worlds, rock bands, and style of dress.

The same studies point out that the is a positive correlation between popularity and creativity. People who are a little more off-beat and creative are considered interesting. Their vibes attract like-minded kids who also wear safety pins in their shoes or who also jam out on their dad’s old electric guitar.

Creative friendships can sustain motivation. 

It’s like showing off, but with love. Our friends who cheer us on can have a major impact on our personal time frames. Our friends can hold us accountable for our work. They can be our keenest editors, our loudest cheerleaders, our best publicity agents, and our most biting critics. They can hear your life between your song lyrics, between your brush strokes, and within your novel’s dialogue.

It is sometimes for our friends that we finish certain pieces. It’s another way of saying “this one’s for you”.

It’s so good for the artist’s soul to know that someone is out there waiting for their next work. Even if their friends are snarling critics who think they can take better, more high-brow photography than they – the young photographer now has an audience. The novelist has her readers. The musician her listeners.

Creative friendships can sharpen individual creative styles, as friends tend to contrast each other. 

Jim Henson was the bohemian, laid-back, pie-in-the-sky dreamer. His best friend and co-worker Frank Oz was the serious, more neurotic, buckle-down producer. They were a dream team that brought the world The Muppets, Yoda, Fraggle Rock, and more. They laughed together, ate together, worked together, and pulled each other through a lifetime of creative projects.

Likewise, Paul McCartney was the bookish goody-two-shoes who enjoyed learning and following the rules. John Lennon was more of a rogue, open minded daredevil. Together, they shook the core of Rock N’ Roll and enjoyed an explosively successful five-year music career never before seen and not seen since.

Our friends hold up the mirror to who we are. They bring out elements in us that we otherwise may have never noticed. In many ways, our friends show us how we move as people – and artists – through the world.

Our friendships can open – or close – our minds.

We are like the five people we hang out with the most. We take on their styles of speech, their attitudes and the way they relate to others. Our friends show us what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. They have the power to close us up in boxes or split us wide open to receive the world and all it’s light.

Our friends can make our worlds smaller and more closed. Or they can open the windows and doors to let in a refreshing breeze that clears our heads. They can shatter our perceptions in single sentences. They can make us believe in our art, they can shape our stories, and they can propel us into new worlds – all over a cozy cup of tea.