Another Monday with our friends, Art and Fear. At least I hope they are getting to be our friends—our good friends—since they are always with us. Too bad David Bayles and Ted Orland are not, but we do have their gem of a book to keep us company and buoy our spirits.
In Chapter V, Finding Our Work, Bayles and Orland go into depth on how our work is always honest. Brutally honest, if we look close enough.
Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you holds back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.
Bayles and Orland go on to talk about a visual artist friend who took up dance. She threw herself into her new passion, taking classes, dancing with abandon. Soon, she was asked to join a dance troupe. The thought of performing and dancing for others—and not just herself—had her dancing fall apart. Where she danced with abandon before now she was stilted and over thought each movement. She stopped—frustrated and depressed. But after a few weeks of withdrawal she is back at it. Finding her way in dance—balancing her passion with the expectations of others.
At the Writers’ League of Texas where I used to work, a writer came in one day. She had questions about publishing and which class would benefit her the most. She said, “I have beginner’s luck. What I write first comes out the best, and when I revise things fall apart.” I listened and while I believe in the abandon of beginners luck—I told her her best work would come from a combination of abandon and critical thinking. I mentioned my own version of the above. Balancing our inner critic and the external critic makes work we begin to takes seriously amp up in importance. Our words can get as stiff and over thought as a dancer’s moves. Then we have to work to stay limber—we have to work to remind ourselves not to hesitate; to be brave. We have to make choices and commit—no holds barred. We then see these choices through to the end and then we can make new choices if need be. To be brilliant we can’t be timid. We must be bold. We must let ourselves fail and flail, because, you know, many novels are began on a whim but they aren’t completed, sold, or published on a whim. We can tap into the “beginner’s mind” but it is not necessary to stay there to succeed—that makes the hard work of art feel like a game of chance—and art isn’t about chance. It may feel like Russian roulette with the variety of critical opinions that pop up when we put our work out there—but the creating, the deep down soul searching a work requires daily is a muscle we build—and muscles grow over time and use. They don’t atrophy.