Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Price of Power

I've been dealing with something recently...something I wouldn't wish on any person.

I thought I'd left the tantrums and pettiness of school life behind. I thought, by forging my own way, that my struggles would be defined by the friction of trecking over uneven ground. I thought I'd left behind the games that weakness plays by accepting that power wasn't inherently evil. I thought by accepting the power in my chosen role, I wouldn't be bombarded with the limitations of weak thoughts.

But I was wrong.

In accepting the strength I'd gained from experience, I accidentally took up the mantel of service. Service to a higher good than just my own. By searching for my own happiness, I'd gone through a forging that most people never experience. That forging gave me an inner solidity that many never find.

Power is a ruthless taskmaster.

This week I have been tested.

My ability to hold my standards above the dragging waters of despair have been challenged. My ability to stave off attackers to my boundaries has been poked and prodded. My ability to create and maintain meaningful, understanding relationships even when the forces above seek to batter them is being placed over the fire.

And even as I cry in frustration, I recognize that I am not broken. My spirits sag and my physical endurance drains. Sleep is a faded dream and security wobbles around me, unsure of itself. But I am not broken. I am still me. I still have myself. The great, nuanced metropolis that I've created with the core of my being still stands.

I am weary and parts of me are ready to escape to softer shores. Should I give in, there is no shame. It means, simply, that I was not ready to take on the new level of power, for which I'm reaching.

For now, I'm stubborn. I've made the decision to pass this test.

The price for power is a pound of flesh. But the flesh is only the veneer.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Public Arena

Part of the difficulty I've faced when discussing my art are the sideways questions that amount to, “Don’t you think you’re being naive?” The talk of statistics, how so few artists “make it.” And how the term “making it” is used when what they really mean is “making a living from it.”

I've been wondering lately…

Who decided the purpose of making art was to make a living?

Making money from our art can be fulfilling and even add a level of joy to our work. But it isn't the point of going to the page, the canvass, the piano, the stage. The point of showing up is to make art, not money.

Demanding that all artwork be backed monetarily means demanding that all artists put themselves under the scrutiny of the public eye. And that eye can be toxic.

The world is full of blocked creatives whose fear of embracing their own art causes them to denounce the fledgling muse of an individual new to the craft. Making a leap of faith takes courage, and it is easier to belittle another's attempt than it is to make the jump for oneself.

“Trend” and “tradition” are tossed about as if the only good art belongs to the past and those who follow in its rigid footsteps. Being creative involves leaving tradition behind, which is a frightening prospect to some.

The public eye is quite fond of measuring the baby steps of a creative toddler to the great strides of an artistic pro. We don't test kindergartners on advanced algebra, yet somehow a young artist is required to know how to navigate a project while adhering to ever-changing whims and staying true to their unique voice.

All of these things feed a beginner’s dark inner dialogue. We hear individuals claim that “they don’t make music like they used to.” Fans of realism sneer at the wobbling lines of a modern sculpture, meant to say more than stark edges ever could. Critics tell us the firewalls of business are meant to keep the riff raff out.

We doubt ourselves. We doubt our art. And we stagnate.

It doesn't have to be this way.

If we truly seek to have better art (as opposed to rigidly hunting more of the same), we must nurture the gawky seedlings. We must learn the difference between criticism and shaming (the former asks, “How can this be made better?” while the latter claims there’s nothing worth saving).

If we want to have more variety, we have to embrace the idea of different paths. We cannot continue to hold one method of delivery as more sacred than another (i.e…the ridiculous declaration that indie artists are ruining their respective genres).

To grow art, we must be willing to grow artists. And growth is a painful and sometimes ugly process. But if the desired outcome is flow, it won’t be achieved by standing still.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Individual Paces: Learning Curves

Each new skill requires a learning curve. And each individual will require a curve unique to him or herself. There is no shame in that. I've said this before (and perhaps if I say it enough, I'll more easily incorporate it into my own life):  there is nothing wrong with being a beginner.

"There's a first time for everything." As the saying goes.

I'd like to make a minor adjustment:  "There's a first time for everyone." In other words, everyone is a beginner at least once in their lives (and usually much more than that).

What may be a simple task for an experienced individual will be a complex endeavor for someone experiencing it for the first time.

For example:  Last week, I bought Photoshop CC for the purpose of creating novel covers and promotional material. I hadn't touched the program before in my life when I first opened it on my laptop. There were so many shiny buttons, and I had no clue what any of them were for. I had a basic understanding of what a layer was used for, and the most extensive things I'd ever done with a photo before were to resize, crop, and paint over it. Anyone who has used a simple paint program knows how much time I've probably wasted when changing my mind mid-paint.

I knew Photoshop CC would streamline my processes and provide me with more creative freedom, but I didn't know how. So I spent a week watching tutorial videos, reading how-to material, and practicing with my own photos. In a week, I went from knowing nothing about Photoshop to creating two series logos that I'm absolutely in love with. (I'll share those when the website goes live. X-3 )

But I have a shallow learning curve for creative expression.

On the other hand:  About two months ago, I was taught how to run a new kind of machine at my night job. I'd watched other operators from afar. I knew the number of responsibilities I would take on by learning this new machine, but I had no idea how to do any of those things. For two weeks, I was followed around by a trainer who helped me when I forgot important details and provided step-by-step instruction on how each task was to be done.

Two weeks ago, I stopped brining my cheat sheet. Last week I felt comfortable enough to make the decision to call maintenance when a problem arose.

Obviously, my learning curve regarding technical skills is much steeper than with creative ones.

But that's my individual style.

There's no shame in being a beginner and needing time to learn a new skill. The only shame to be had is when we try to push ourselves above the level at which we naturally gather, understand, and retain new information.

Asking for help when I needed it used to be very difficult for me. I wanted to be able to do everything on my own from the starting gate with minimal instruction. I don't learn most skills that way, and it caused more problems and frustration than swallowing my pride and asking for advice would have done.

In our desire for independence, we've forgotten that standing on our own power requires us to understand when our power alone isn't enough. Teachers would be unnecessary if we all came equipped with all the knowledge we would ever need. Trainers wouldn't exist if everyone who walked into the door of a company could do every job in it. School wouldn't be a word in our vocabulary.

Learning in an essential part of life. It's best to make peace with it and our individual style of doing so.