I was taping a video on perfection early last week, and that got me thinking: about taking risks, being bold and brave. About innovating vs. repeating. About growing up and getting old. What has one thing have to do with the other – you may be wondering. In my mind … it all makes sense. Have a little patience with me, and I’ll try and explain.
Because of stuff going on in my own life, I have been thinking about getting on in age: what it means, what needs to be done, all the small, intricate parts of leaving a legacy, of leaving something of yours behind. Of taking care of the people we love.
And that, once again, brought to mind taking risks, being bold, innovating – not looking for perfection but getting things done. About choosing to put yourself out there and as Brené Brown says, getting your ass kicked. Because if you put yourself out there as an artist, the critics will come – and there’s a guarantee that you’ll get your ass kicked. Brené says that “it is so scary to show up, it feels dangerous to be seen; it’s terrifying. But it is not as scary, dangerous or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and thinking what if I would have had shown up? What would have been different?” I have been thinking about that a lot. About the choice of showing up and putting yourself out there.
What does it mean to take a risk? Not just in life but in art? When we were young, we never thought about it: you got on a bicycle and got going even if you were not very good at it. We skated, we played, we swam just because we could and never really worried if we were good or not. And we made art. We drew, we painted, we sat with our school-mates plein air and drew the church and the plaza. The cafe in the corner with its outdoor tables. The same cube, sphere and pyramid … And by doing, we got better. We didn’t really think about it. The older we get – the older I get – the more cautious I get: I think things more, I consider, ponder, analyze.
An email yesterday by Louise Fletcher brought it all to mind: when I was 21, I got married and moved to Canada. From one end of the Americas to the other end, as far as I could get almost. I knew I would miss my family, but I got on that plane and jumped to a new adventure! And arrived in a new country with a new husband – one I had not seen in 10 months – and a new language in the middle of January: to be met by people I did not know and taken to a place I had never been in. To start a new life: what could be more scary? I don’t think about it a lot anymore, because life has been good with its ups and downs. But every so often I think back on those first months and feel the loneliness, the sadness and can still feel all the tears I shed. I wrote long letters and sent them by snail mail and waited for mail to come. I used to open the door every afternoon and check the mailbox and when I found a letter, I would keep it in a pocket until a time when I could sit with a cup of tea in my favourite chair and read the news from home – slowly … savouring each word. Phoning was expensive so it was reserved for special occasions.
A lot of years later, with the advances in technology, all that is not that important anymore, or so it seems. Facetime, What’s app, Messenger, texting have made it possible for us to stay in touch with personal face-to-face communication. But that brings its own downfalls: it’s brought out the critics. Everyone feels the need to comment on anything and everything. No matter what it is, we comment. We have all become experts in it all. Whether you know the person or not. And some comments are not nice, because hiding behind a handle in social media, people feel entitled to voice their opinions.
Someone said “There is no B-roll in social media”. Meaning: we only show our best: best work, best photos of ourselves, best …, best …., best. Everything looks perfect. And if we compare, we are doomed. We feel that we do not measure up. That we are not good enough, that we cannot compete. So why bother? But to demand perfection, is to invite paralysis. Ansel Adams never mistook precision for perfection. He knew that if he waited for everything in the scene to be exactly right, he would never make a photograph. As you see error in the work you produce, you steer toward what you feel you can do right, to what you know you can do – away from risk and exploration.
As Ted Orland and David Bayles say in their book “Art & Fear – Observations of the Perils (and Rewards) of ARTMAKING“: “to demand perfection is to deny your ordinary humanity which is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done. Getting on with your work requires a recognition that perfection itself is a flawed concept. For you, the seed of your next art work, lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections are your guides – valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides – to matters you need to reconsider or develop further.”
And they go on to say: “hovering out there somewhere between cause and effect, between fears about self and fears about others, lie expectations. Expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work … your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your willingness to embrace … the lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgement.”
Art is often made in abandonment, emerging in moments of selfless rapport with the materials and ideas we care about. So here’s my fervent hope for all of us putting ourselves out there: take risks, explore, go and make art: in abandonment, without fear – good art, bad art, so-so art. Because you know what? If that’s what you are meant to do, take a risk and go do it. And do NOT let anyone tell you anything different. Do not worry about getting it “right” or getting it “wrong”. It’s only fabric, paint, paper or whatever materials you use. Not everything is going to be a work of art, but every single piece you produce will teach you something. And not everything needs to be shown. Those so-so pieces that taught you something … will make a great addition to the wood pile! Get rid of them so they do not clutter your mind.
Thanks for reading, and keep making art …