Getting it wrong to get it right
I’ve seen the discussion come up again, that somehow if Christian artist could achieve some level of excellence they would be able to break some prophetic threshold. Lack of excellence is getting in the way of the Christian message. Or so this is what some are saying. There is a problem with this attitude.
Bad art happens. That is how you know you are on the right track.
Artists need to have the space to do bad work. Art is one of those things that you can only get better at by doing it. That means there will be mistakes made. We won’t always get it right. And we need to make mistakes because that is how we learn. We need what the videos I posted before called “The Lost Years”. There is no short cut. You don’t start out making great art. No artist should wait until they are sure they will get it right. There is no other way to know if you are at that point until you are willing to risk failing and making bad work.
I am not talking practicing technique, though that certainly is a part of this. Bruce Lee said “We learn so we can forget”. The point of practicing technique is so that one can create without thinking about technique. A musician wants to play whatever music is running through his head without worrying if he is holding his hands correctly, or thinking about what scale is right. The musician practices scales so when it is time to play he doesn’t have to think about them. Their hands automatically go where they should go. You only get to this point through daily practice. The choreographer, Merce Cunningham said “dancers shouldn’t be dancers if they don’t love the dailiness of it,” and “You have to love the daily work.”
Art is not about technique
But what we also have to practice is actually putting everything together.
Vincent van Gogh was known to draw or paint something many times until he got what he wanted. He painted the view from his window in his ground floor studio no fewer than 21 times, one time resulting in his most famous painting, Starry Night. He would consider the earlier works “rehearsals”. You can’t really know if something will work until you actually do it, full out. Artists need space and allowance to fail. That may result in bad art, but it is the only way to get to good and even great art.
A problem can be complacency, that we think we are good enough or as good as we need to be. How do we solve that? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until people start to believe me—relationship. Artists should have and need people they can trust to talk to them about their work, people who know them, their process, and have some level of understanding of the art being made. People who can give them unfiltered feedback. Sometimes that will include telling someone they need to practice more. Ever watch the auditions of reality TV singing competitions? Ever wonder how someone thought they should sing on those shows? I believe no one was ever honest with them. Or they were listening to the wrong people. If anyone was telling these people they need more practice, they weren’t listening.
In his latest book Culture Care, Makoto Fujimura relates the story of a friend of his son advising him to have a “board of directors” for his life. This is great advice for anyone. Maybe that sounds too corporate for you. In other circles we might call this an accountability group or support group. Whatever you want to call this group, have one. And be a part of one.
Changing hearts may just mean your’s is the one needing change
You can’t sit on the outside and gripe. Well, you can. And many do. That just won’t change anything. If you find an artist that you think may actually have some talent, but maybe needs some encouragement to work more, send them a note. Ask them about their work. If it is someone you know, take them to coffee or lunch. Becoming a part of each others’ lives is the first step to becoming someone to listen to. Just remember, as always, this works both ways. You need to hear, not just be heard.
Be particular about where you spend your time. Time is scarce. I work with a lot of dancers and dance companies. I often think about ways I can help my local dance community. I went to someone I consider one of the best in dance arts development and asked her thoughts. She suggested something that in hindsight is kind of a “Duh”, but profoundly changed my thinking. She told me you can’t help everyone. You don’t want to help everyone. Find the people you can believe in and focus your efforts there. One doesn’t have enough time or resources to help everyone. Make the resources you have count. If you try to help everyone, you dilute your contribution to each and that isn’t fair to anyone. If you try to help someone you don’t believe in, how hard will you really work? How effective an advocate will you truly be? That won’t be fair to them.
If you’ve read any of my first posts I posed this question regarding subverting the whole “culture wars” mentality:
Now imagine that thing or person earlier we are trying to fight. What do you think would happen if we came up beside them and asked things like “Where are you going? Why are you going there? How are you getting there?” Imagine if we could say, “Hey I’m going there, too!” Or “I’ve been there already. Here is what to look out for. Can I help you get there and help you when you get there?” Imagine if we showed that we actually cared about them. Imagine if we actually cared.
Contribute, don’t fight
This is how we contribute and care for culture. Not in court or in legislation. By person to person, one on one relationships. Anyway, by the time you get to judicial or legislative actions, it’s likely too late. And even then, the solution is still the same. One way or the other the only way to change things is person to person. May as well start off where you’ll end up.
I will warn you now. This is not for the feint of heart. That space that artists need? Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes it is chaotic. Sometimes it seems counter-productive. Sometimes it seems counter to your views and values. That’s okay. That is part of the process. We have to be willing to take the bad with the good, we have to learn to live in the mess. That’s how God takes us, right? It is step by step, precept upon precept. Things that change quickly can usually change back just as quickly. Patience is required.
I used to hate the trite saying “It’s the heart that matters”. This was used as an excuse to not do better work. But in reality it is the heart that matters. You will be known from your heart because you can’t hide if you really are just trying to skate by or if you really want to do better. Your heart will bear you out if you are working as unto the Lord or not.
As usual, thanks for reading. Please write me with your own thoughts. And, please let me know if I have permission to publish your thoughts.