There are many people who will tell you not to be so impulsive. Many times, they will be right. Especially when it comes to impulse shopping, impulse eating, and impulse snarking. (Raven, in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, has Poor Impulse Control tattooed on his forehead. In his case it has more to do with anger and weaponry.)
Impulse arting is the very nature of art, so it is perfectly fine.
That impulse, I’d like to believe, is on a spectrum. In its earliest, simplest form, it is the impulse for artistic expression. We all have it, and we will all be better off for giving in to it. It is coating our fingers with chocolate and drawing on the wall, and making up songs with funny words and doodling in a journal and arranging our peas and bacon into smiley faces. Then there is the impulse that leads to art that shreds your soul and pieces it back together again but not like it was before. The difference is – for lack of a better word – craft. This couplet, this arc through space: just so. We are left speechless, or if we are art critics, with too many sentences, all inadequate.
Craft is intentional, at first. It takes attention to create a habit of seeing like an artist, processing like an artist, and then practicing what you see. Then something midway between willpower and brain-muscle fluidity takes over. Your hands (or toes, if you’re into that) can recreate in watercolor, pixel, pencil, pebbles, thread, what nanoseconds ago was a flicker, an instinct given form, in your mind’s eye, but better. With practice, you breathe in impulse, breathe out craft.
So. Doodle every chance you can, whatever comes into your head. I call it “doodling” to take away the pressure that comes from calling it “drawing,” “illustrating,” or any word that implies any modicum of skill or talent. (There are many ways to get around your Inner Critic. This is one of them.)
Go off on tangents, even in the middle of a sentence. Interesting stories emerge at tangents. Use your sketchbooks and notebooks to aid unexpected collisions. Doodle on the same page on different days. Acquire a fondness for marginalia.
Passive consumption is bad for you. It deadens your impulses and distracts you from practice. Consume less. Create more.
You will not be able to engage in social chitchat about American Idol. It will make you feel out of place sometimes. So learn not to mind being out of place. Or transform your discomfort into a doodle. Sublimation has worked for centuries; it worked for Proust and Van Gogh. It will work for you.
Find other impulsive people and collaborate with them, preferably on the spur of the moment. Yes, it happens.
Other people have called what I do art. I think I will die reluctant. I shy away from the label. I am by no means an artist. I have no pretensions to greatness or soul shredding. What I have is impulse, an unreasonable love of practice, and a decades-long pitched battle against my Inner Critic.
This struggle makes me think of ink. Not the ink in the bottle, but the ink left in the cap. There’s not enough of it to flow back into the bottle, to wet a feed or a nib. Because there’s not enough of it, it doesn’t have the pressure of being ink and doing inky things. It can just stay in the cap. It can smear your fingers. It can invent little dances when no one’s looking. In its littleness, its not-enoughness, it is free.
You know what they say: With great power comes great responsibility. This is what I believe: With small impulses come great possibility.