Stop Apologizing for Your Art! (Dammit!)

Since joining WordPress three months ago, I have noticed a fascinating trend regarding artists and their lack of confidence. In fact, I began compiling a list of apologies that I have found on posts here and there.

1.            A new drawing, but I’m not satisfied with the result. I did too many mistakes on this one. But I’ll say myself finished and move on to my next project

2.            Honestly, I was kind of lacking inspiration for today’s photo

3.            Not very good just hope you like it and please don’t laugh.

4.            …not so good though, but still work in progress.

5.            Bear in mind, we are rigorously timed and there are all kinds of visual distractions when you’re trying to concentrate

6.            I messed it up! Oh well, posting it anyways.

Listen, if you’re going to post it, believe in it. Let’s be honest: you are posting it because you are actually proud of it. You want the praise, so you post. But this exposes you to possible criticism, so you hedge your bet and provide a disclaimer, an apology. Problem solved—you can get some praise and avoid the criticism. But here’s the real problem— if you don’t believe it, no one else will.

Did Mr. Hirst shrink in his apartment and say, “oh boy, people have been putting fish in tanks for centuries.”? No, he said, “Check this out, morons, it’s the biggest damn thing you’ve ever seen outside the Natural History Museum, so pay up!”

Did Bob Dylan go on stage apologizing for his crappy singing voice? No way! He had something to say!

Did Kurt Cobain start each concert like this,”Hey guys, I only know a couple of chords, but I just wanted to show you what I was kind of working on, when I can squeeze it in. Keep in mind, most of this still needs some work.”

Heck no, you go out there like Rothko and Pollock and believe in it!

Most likely, you can write better than Thomas Wolfe, draw better than Grandma Moses or Basquiat or Banksy, and sing better than Bob Dylan. So keep working and own it.

One more thing…. If you take this to the limit, you will find that in every argument, art always wins. Critics can bash it, ignorami can hate it, but in the end the art just stands there, showing everyone a mirror of themselves. Art’s just art, but people will have to live with the way they acted around it.

Meaninglessness Matters, Nihilism Doesn’t. Part 2 in the Series on Meaninglessness.

In this second installment, in trying to understand the liberating and redemptive power of meaninglessness, let’s separate the wheat from the chaff. Let’s slice off some of the nonsense that philosophy has handed down to us. Let’s get back down to the clean dirt of mother earth:

Meaninglessness is not Nihilism. Nihilism is not worth considering. A nihilist, driven to certain desperate straits or torments, will abandon his fake philosophy and begin striving for better conditions. Bereft of the luxury of pretending that nothing matters, he begins to work for things that do matter to him, even if it’s only his next meal. So much for Nihilism. No, meaninglessness is not a place where nothing matters. On the contrary, meaninglessness is a place where things do matter. It is a place where hearts desperately crave meaning and purpose, but cannot latch on, or have become conscious of the circularity and distressingly human-centric aspect of life here on earth.

The things that we pursue here do matter, and it is important to live well. Before moving on to more nourishing notions in future posts, I wanted to make sure that I explain that with these essays I am not here to wallow in the imaginary problems of the well-fed. Existentialism is not a way to occupy a mind unoccupied by crushing want. It is an honest attempt to live truthfully and well, according to the heart, and against all dogma.

This series is focused on how to live well in practical terms. Please don’t harbor any thoughts that any of this is supposed to veer off into the clouds. What we want is to recognize that life is ours to embrace, and that things do matter, but we must come to terms with the true nature of meaning and meaninglessness if we are to improve ourselves, the way we treat others, and our lot here on this beautiful planet.

Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy

     In the coming weeks and months I am going to roll out a series of essays and stories about a topic that I believe is the key to a life well and authentically lived. I don’t believe that it has ever been explored in quite this way before, and my art and blog are dedicated to it. The three topics of Meaninglessness, Rebellion, and Joy are closely interlinked. Take a look at Joseph Campbell’s quote:

“And in this life-creative adventure the criterion of achievement will be… the courage to let go the past, with its truths, its goals, its dogmas of “meaning” and its gifts: to die to the world and to come to birth from within.” — Joseph Campbell, ‘The Masks of God, Volume IV’ page 678.

     Campbell placed the word meaning in quotation marks. What a grand and understated nod to our central condition in this life! I want to expand on this for months, maybe years, but the gist of it is that meaning, that meaning which so consumes those who strive to live consciously, is not a foundation or a solid rock. Rather, it is more like a useful model of how to live here, and what to do to live well and truly. Meaning, so to speak, is a structure which gives form and impetus to a life. Obviously, a life without meaning is unbearable. Yet, meaning itself is not a thing. It does not exist as anything. There is no meaning or meaninglessness at all, unless someone chooses one or the other. In other words, the basis for the meaning of our lives is just a choice to have meaning in our lives. There is no deeper ground.

     Now, I can hear the protests of the religious saying that the ultimate ground of meaning is God. Sure, I too believe in God. But God notwithstanding, it is still your choice to give meaning to God. God gave you the freedom to choose, but he did not give you meaning itself. It may very well be that the great abhorrence toward atheism and nihilism by the religious is nothing more than an unrecognized dread of this truth about meaning—that is, that it begins and ends with us alone. God or no, I must face the universe myself.

     At birth and throughout life, everyone gets a package of ready-made meaning. Meaning is presented as something real, as truth. And generally, rebellion against the myth is not tolerated. Enter Rebellion and meaninglessness. To live truly, you must rebel. We are on a “life-creative adventure” and the chief achievement will be “the courage to let go the past with its truths… its dogmas of ‘meaning’”. The rebel is the one who sets out from the warm hearth of his inherited meaning. She ventures away from meaning and crosses through meaninglessness– “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”. There are many wastelands, but this is the ultimate. It is also the one most worthy of being crossed. You must “…die to the world and come to birth from within”. So the rebel crosses the valley to new meaning, to truth and authentic life. That is the process: Rebellion, Meaninglessness, Joy.