Philosophy Tuesday

The purpose of art is not to be good at it.

The purpose of art is for SELF-EXPRESSION.

The reason we hone our craft – ie “get good” at it – is to better express.  So that our self-expression is as full and free and clear and powerful as it can be.  And that’s awesome.


Corollary:

The purpose of art is not to get praise.

The purpose of art is for SELF-EXPRESSION.

Whether we are acknowledged, or not, whether we are rewarded, or not, whether we are lauded, or not, if our self-expression is true, then we have done true art.

Philosophy Tuesday

“You either walk into your story

and own your truth,

or you live outside of your story,

hustling for your worthiness.”

Brené Brown

 

(This greatly dovetails into the notions of shame, for who has to hustle for their worthiness than someone who feels unworthy?  Which, by extension, is part and parcel of feeling shame.  And so when we take ownership of our actions, of our behaviour, of our story/stories (again, ownership, not blame, which would be part of invoking shame again) we gain power.  The power to be, the power to choose, the power to create.  And from that comes freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind.)

Philosophy Tuesday

I want to talk tonight about the process of making art.  Because it is just that:  a process.

Rarely (if ever) does something come into our heads fully formed, gifted from the muses with perfection.  No, even in the best of circumstances we may have a vision, but it still needs to be rendered tangible so that it can be refined, then reviewed, then refined again.

More often, we begin with merely an inkling, or perhaps a smattering of them.  And then we need to, once again, render then tangible so we can see them, massage them, reflect on them and see what arises, then follow those paths, massaging and reflecting and following again, until we get to multitudinous cycles of refinement.

All to reach that ‘final’ product… which in actuality is really just the point where we stopped because if we kept going we (and others*) could see new things and we could elevate the work even more.

Fortunately, the works of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation provide excellent windows into this truth about process.  They have been remarkably generous in sharing the stories and histories of creation on a movie, from the earliest notions and sketches to the final product often five years later.  That there alone might be enough to have us grasp how much of a process it is, for five years is quite a long time to labour on something.  But it becomes even more palpable when we see just how different the early concepts and visions are to what ends up on the screen.  (Sometimes it feels like there’s no connection between the two at all!)  There’s tonnes of directions and ideas and themes that didn’t work, or didn’t work as well as another, or had their own pitfalls, or didn’t fit.  Along the way, whole scenes are discarded, whole elements excised.  At the most extreme, the entire last third of the movie, or even the whole movie, was tossed in order to rework and rewrite them towards awesomeness.  They’re not shy about this (clearly not, since they’re telling us about it).  I doubt its easy, but it’s part of the artistic process.

So why do we think this isn’t the case?  Why do we often hold a notion that true art somehow should come in a flash, perfectly formed, and if there’s even a bit of struggle there must be something wrong?  I’d postulate this: because, in the end, if the work has been refined and elevated enough then the final result feels inevitable.  Everything fits and sings and it seems like it couldn’t be any other way.

Here’s the takeaways that I wanted to create…

For one, an invitation to not be harsh or dismissive when we hear a work is taking a long time or is going through a lot of rewrites or editing or reshoots or whatever, depending on the medium.  That’s a part of the process.  The thing is not necessarily in trouble.  It’s doing what it needs to do. **

For two, a reminder to not be harsh or despondent towards ourselves and our creative endeavours.  Especially when they’re HARD.  And when they need wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and refinement.  It’s part of the process.

And lastly, to gather this all up and apply it to our lives and the grand art we all practice, that of the art of living.  For it is no different; it too is a process.  And as such we can be kinder and gentler with ourselves, and with others, and dance in the truth that it ongoingly requires great amounts of reflection, wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and forevermore refinement.

It is a neverending path towards increasing beauty.

 

* Because through this all we needn’t be alone in this – quite the contrary it’s much better to bring along a posse.  As noted before, “ya gotta pin your work up on the wall.

** I’d get more worried if there were no changes being made.  Maybe it’s the perfect conception!  But odds are not…

Philosophy Tuesday

Language is great. I mean, blogs would be pretty weird without language! Putting the bad jokes aside, though, language is so crucial to us as humans in that it frames just about everything, from our perceptions to our thinking to our experience of life and what life even is.

You know that great feeling of amazement we get when we hear a word that oh so perfectly encapsulates something that we’d been having trouble explaining or expressing? Or when the word is so illuminating that we become aware of something we had been totally blind to until that point? Language, and words, can be limiting, but it can also be amazingly empowering.

That’s why I love learning that in Japanese there are a pair of words that have the same English translation: “muzukashii” (むずかしい) and “taihen” (たい|へん). *

In English, both of these words translate to “difficult.” However, they are not the same: “muzukashii” refers to difficulty from complexity, whereas “taihen” gets its difficulty from an overwhelming scale. So, for example, for a math test a muzukashii would be a hard differential calculus problem, while a taihen would be four thousand simple addition and subtraction questions.

Which is very cool, because when we experience those kind of situations they are quite distinct. As are our reactions to them, or the efforts we may need to take to get through it, or how we might go about solving them, and a whole host of things. And when we talk about the obstacles that lie before us (both as individuals and as communities and more), it makes a difference to know what kind of difficulty it may be to take it on… or even if it may be different groups of difficulties, some relating to complexity, some relating to scope. Otherwise, it’s easy to collapse it all into a complex morass of epic proportions, leading us to dejection before we even start.

I’m keen on being mindful and taking this new distinction forward to see how it alters my perceptions of things and, from that, what new avenues of agency and empowerment it opens.

 

* I do hope I got the writing correct… I came across this distinction in a comment by glilimith on this Folding Ideas video.

Philosophy Tuesday

In life, when something (usually unexpected) pops up, there’s two ways we can proceed:  we can react, or we can respond.

They may sound the same, but they are different.  A reaction is an automatic impulse that usually is aimed directly back at the incoming force.  It, at best, resets the situation.  At worse, our automatic flailing further mires us or even might make things worse.

To respond, however, is to take what’s coming in and move it where we want it.   We listen, we engage, we reflect, we direct, and we bring it to a place of resolution.  In responding we have both agency and flexibility.

Perhaps the best way I got to experience this difference – and thus learn to distinguish them for myself – was through Sifu, especially through our push hands exercises.  With an incoming force, to react is to resist and push back.  Again, at best this might stop the incoming force, resetting the situation and allowing things to start anew.  More often than that, however, reacting causes us to stiffen or to overreach, leaving us spent, off balance, and open for an exploit.  And against someone with good sensitivity (ie, someone who is trained in responding), our reactive energy can even be used against us.

But when we learn to respond, an incoming force is not a crisis.  It is just an incoming force.  We can feel it, sense it, know its direction, know its intent, recognize what could be done, and then guide it to a place of safety – or beyond, harnessing it for our advantage.

No surprise, so too it goes in our lives.  With mindfulness and practice* we gain access to the beauty of responding.  A world of equanimity opens up, and with it the ability to create outcomes that empower and enliven ourselves, those around us, and the community at large.

 

* Especially in dealing with and doing the work to remove our “buttons” and worries and concerns and etc that have us freak out or get defensive, things that very much almost force us to react forcibly…

Philosophy Tuesday

The word competition comes from the Latin, competere, which means (according to etymology online) to “strive in common, strive after something in company with or together,” or, in the classical Latin, “to meet or come together; agree or coincide; to be qualified.”

And… wow.  That seems so much more expansive than how that word is normally used these days.  To strive together.  It isn’t an individual thing, and the outcome isn’t intended to be just an individual thing.  It’s about us all pulling together to attain new heights.

There’s no better reminder of this, in a very literal way, than perhaps the feel-good moment of 2021 when Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi shared the gold medal at the Olympics:

What’s even better is that they are good friends.  They’ve been competing for years.  Striving together, pushing themselves and those around them to aim high and see what they can do.  Sometimes one did better than the other, and vice versa.  They had fun with it.  They were competing to get fit together.  And you can hear in the interviews above how excited they were for how well the entire field was jumping.

All culminating to that moment where they gifted to us such unbridled expressions of joy.