Wednesday, November 2, 2016

You're All You've Got

Reposted with permission from a recent Facebook post

You’re All You’ve Got - Apparently a Janis Joplin quote and something I've only just realised.

Every time I come across an artist that I like, I go through the same basic three-step emotional process:

1. This is great.
2. Why can’t I be great like this?
3. I’m not great.

I’m aware that it’s not the healthiest way to be, but I’m working on it. Back off. I’m also aware that what I’m about to talk about is not by any means a new revelation, or even a unique way to look at things. But it’s new to me. Back off. I’m also aware that people may completely disagree with me about this stuff. But I don’t disagree with me. Back off. Sorry. I love you.

Whether it’s a great song, a sketch, a drawing, a comic, TV or a movie, I always feel like there is some great secret that I’m not in on. Something that separates the real artists from the "try-hards" (because trying hard is lame). From all accounts, this doesn’t just go away - see Imposter Syndrome - but I find it very difficult to refute at my current level of output. I feel so frustrated because of this apparent disconnect between me and the artists I admire. What makes them real and me fake?

The major difference is obviously time. I’m a big supporter of the 10,000 hours principle, and I agree that "putting your head down and doing the work" is the best (potentially only) way to improve your craft and get somewhere truly cool. After all, most of the artists I admire are at least 5 times as far into their journey as I am. But time is objective (right?), and that makes it relatively easy to be ok about. I know that time will pass no matter what, there’s nothing I can do to make it go faster. The feeling I’m trying to contend with is “No matter how long you go at it, you won’t get anywhere. You’re not one of them”. I’m starting to realise that’s kinda the point. Comparing yourself to others (especially in the world of making stuff) has long been known to be not-super-healthy. It’s a fast track to inferiority. I used to think it was because of the time thing. How could you possibly be as good as this artist when they’re at 24,000 hours and you’re at 100? But I think it’s more than that. You’re comparing yourself to something incomparable; another person. Even if you had double their experience, you couldn’t make what they made. They’re them, and you’re you.

Great artists often talk about self expression as the point of their work. Using a particular medium to express your inner feelings in a way that you otherwise couldn’t. I’ve been trying to "make things" for what is objectively not a very long time (2-ish years) and looking back, I don’t have much that I can point to as definitively "me". That’s not to say I’m not proud of some things I’ve done. If I’ve done a show with you, please don’t think I didn’t enjoy it. Not everything is about you, asshole. Actually, everything is about me. The reason I don’t feel a strong personal connection to my work is that it hasn’t been me. It’s been me trying to be me. It’s me trying to create what "me" should be. People often talk about "bringing yourself" to your work as if it’s an optional extra sauce that makes things especially juicy, but I’m starting to realise that it’s the only thing. It’s not an extra, it’s everything.

As I see it, the point of great art is to connect people. This happens in two ways. Either an artist expresses something that you thought only you had experienced, making you feel less alone and all nice and stuff. That or they express something you’ve never experienced, expanding your emotional vocabulary in some way. Either way, this happens because they’re showing you a part of themselves. I know that some art is designed to explore aspects of the world at large rather than personal feelings, but I still think that comes through the lense of whoever is exploring it. The difference between good artists and great artists is that great artists are more aware of what they’re trying to say/explore about themselves, and therefore have a more focussed process. That’s what I’m aiming for.

I’m not saying every sketch you write has to have some deep introspective cosmic question to pose, but every sketch should come from a place that you think is 100% worth exploring. Even if that place is "what do flies think when they’re fucking in mid-air". Art is about self-exploration and self-expression. It uses selfishness to connect us. If you really think it’s worth talking about, don’t question it. That’s you, and you’re all you’ve got.

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