Monday, June 25, 2012

"Don't Know."

Lynda Barry
Lately I've been reading books about art and the creative process. They're rebuilding me. I need to do this sometimes. (Don't you?) A little art therapy I guess.

One of the books is a graphic non-linear autobiography. The narrator tells her own story through a series of drawings and doodles and collages framed by thoughts. In one section she's doodling and there are ghosts behind her yelling "Don't Know!"  The girl is the book's author struggling with her desire to become an artist. The problem is she doesn't know if her work is any good. She's already experienced that inevitable turning point we all undergo at some point regarding self-expression and art: someone judged her work negatively. Now she is followed by ghosts whose lingering presence forces her to question the value of her work. And she just can't determine anymore what's good. Before, it didn't matter.

So how does one know if something is truly good?

"Don't know."

Every child experiences this. Every artist experiences this. Really anyone who creates anything. I very clearly recall winning an art contest in Grade 3. There was an assembly and I was presented with a book. The man reached out to shake my hand but I didn't know what he was doing so I stood there until finally I reached up and held his hand for a while. He laughed. For years after that I wondered, am I an artist? Art class, for me, was my school safe place. I enjoyed most things about school but Art class felt more like home than my own home. I never felt stupid there. And honestly I don't ever remember being criticized there but I do remember one useless lesson I learned at some point in junior high: real boys don't do art. And that's when the critic appeared: me.

I just finished my first year in a new job. Despite the many challenges, I almost entirely loved the job. Especially the creativity. The risk-taking. The problem-solving. Testing hypotheses. The play. Never the same day twice. Researching. Collaborating. Designing. Learning. Developing the art of it. Practicing. It was hard. But it rarely felt like work. But I wonder, was it good? I truly think it was and yet....

"Don't know?"

Some things just cannot be judged at least not in quantifiable ways. I believe, once again, that what's most valuable is not measurable. Like art. So I say: "ghosts, go away."

6 comments:

Laoch of Chicago said...

Fine post.

Kelly said...

I really believe there was once an artist in all of us as children but something scared it away. I have one child who I hope to keep the ghosts away with.

Also only a true artist would think to reach out and hold a man's offered hand. Love that story : )

Paul McCormick said...

I need to say something similar. I can't tell you how many times I've said this same kind of thing to my wife about my writing.

"Is it good?"
"Well Paul, I like it."
"I know, but you love me. Is it better than other stuff you've read?"
"I think so."
"What is it better than?"

And so the conversation goes. I wish I could tell the ghosts to go away.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

If only that inner critic would just shut up, eh? I think everyone struggles with turning down that noise.

The Defiant Marshmallow said...

Happy First Anniversary of your job!

Infrequently, I read blog posts that I really like and want to comment on, but just can't think of anything meaningful to write. Frequently, they're yours.

So I'll just say that this is one of those posts, and thanks for writing it.

Michael said...

What would happen if you said yes to the ghosts? Invite them closer for a cup of coffee?

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