Friday, 4 March 2011

being good or being you

I like photographing my desk from time to time, like to see different elements and images sitting beside each other. It occurs to me looking at this one that it shows some of the places I'm stealing from.

Not related to this thought at all, I seem to have been having a few conversations recently about the idea of 'being good' at creative work. As in, 'I wasn't good enough to go to art college' or, 'when I read a fantastic poem, I think, how could I ever write something, because it could never be really good in the way that this is'.

I sometimes examine my different relationships (or not - my different blockages, perhaps...) with art and with music. I can identify with the 'wanting to be good' thing when it comes to music. Not in the sense of wanting to be patted on the back or garlanded with flowers, but at least in the sense of wanting to 'have more/better technique, so that I can play wild stuff like X'. I managed not to get too hung up on whether I was intrinsically 'good enough', in the sense that people mean when they make judgements about 'talent' or 'natural ability'. But I could hear it in my playing - an intense frustration in every note, in every hurried solo trying to be something beyond its capacity - the desire to 'have' technique, to 'be better' than I was, even if only so that I could actually play the stuff that I was hearing in my head.

I got over it to some extent, in that I eventually did start to play again. I tried to focus on just what I actually could play, to hear the notes, the harmonies, the relationships for what they actually were, instead of what my mind said they weren't. But I never really found a quiet, settled place from which to play. There was always that sense of feeling cheated by the lack of technique. I suspect that this may be some version of what some people feel when they want to draw, or write, or dance, but they believe that just 'aren't good enough'.

This belief seems to be utterly poisonous to me. Hopeless from the start, because, however good you are, there will always be thousands of people much better than you are (however you're making that judgement about good and bad). If you're fixated on being 'good'; or on trying to achieve a standard that you feel exists in the novel you're reading, or the solo you're listening to, there's an almost insuperable mountain to climb even before you begin. A mountain that stands between you and the quiet, sustained, exploratory work over time that you  need to do to find out just how 'good' or 'bad' you might turn out to be.

It occurs to me that some re-framing is required. Forget the idea of talent, of natural ability, of innate capacities. Avoid even the thought that because you're looking at, or listening to, something that seems to to you be fantastically skilled, or moving, you might as well not even think about starting your own inadequate little attempt. Erase the idea of good, and replace it with mine. Because however good you think someone else's work may be, it's the work that came out of them. Talented or not, there's nothing you can to do make their work come out of you.

However good or bad you think your own work is, it's going to be different to the work being produced by anyone else on the planet. That to me seems to be a very liberating idea. What is going to come out of you? Not, how good, but what? What is your thing - your vision, your feeling, your response, your love, your passion, your awe, your pain - with what result? No-one can take that away from you, and no-one can do it better than you. Now that seems to me to be rather a fab idea.


  1. Mmmm, thanks for commenting (feedback is always interesting, and a surprise!), and for the link.

  2. Which didn't work, unfortunately...

  3. oops - try copying and pasting the link:



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