The Artist’s Journey, #13
We’re now well past halfway in The Artist’s Journey. The finished book (which Shawn and I have been putting together over the past month) has altered quite a bit from this serialization. Shawn found some chapters in a file that we’d been working on, preparing for a live seminar. Those went into the book. He tweaked and added other stuff and reordered a bunch of chapters. And as always, he took my eight “acts” and consolidated them into three. Why didn’t I think of that? If you’ve missed any of the prior posts, you can catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. And Part 12.
57. THE ARTIST LEARNS HOW TO LET GO
I was visiting my friend Robert Bidner at his studio in Brooklyn. As Bob was showing me the paintings he was currently working on—about half a dozen on easels in varying stages of completion—I noticed another sheaf of canvases stacked against a wall in back.
“Those are my clinkers,” Bob said.
In the days when homes were heated by coal, he explained, every load inevitably contained one or two lumps that refused to burn.
Those were called clinkers.
I couldn’t stop my eye from returning to those abandoned paintings. I asked Bob if he ever hauled any back out and tried again to make them work.
I used to, he said.
Then he shook his head.
“You gotta know when to let go.”
58. THE ARTIST LEARNS HOW TO BE ALONE
She trains herself to find emotional and spiritual sustenance in the work.
Her need for third-party validation attenuates. She may still ask you of her work, “What do you think?” But she evaluates your response within the framework of her own self-grounded assessment of her gifts and aspirations—and of how well or poorly she herself believes she has used the one in the service of the other.
59. THE ARTIST LEARNS HOW TO WORK WITH OTHERS
She lets go of the need to plaster her name over everything.
It’s fun to jam, she decides. And even more fun when the finished product is better than any of the constituents could have produced on their own. She sees the beauty now in “Rodgers & Hammerstein” and “Jagger & Richards.”
Note please, as we delineate these skills, that their absence is the sign of the amateur.
An amateur can’t start, can’t keep going, can’t finish, can’t work alone, can’t work with others.
We ourselves were amateurs before our hero’s journey. That ordeal has chastened us. We have peered into the abyss and it has bitch-slapped us into reality. We might not, now, want to start, want to keep going, want to finish, want to work alone, want to collaborate—but we have confronted the alternative and it has scared us straight.
60. THE ARTIST LEARNS EMOTIONAL DISTANCE
I used to write novels that read like personal journals. To slog through them was excruciating, even for me.
The artist learns to detach himself from his expectations. He learns to separate his personal identity from his work.
No, he is not Holden Caulfield.
No, he is not Luke Skywalker.
Nor is she the book itself.
She is not Beloved.
She is not To Kill A Mockingbird.
The artist learns to interpose an emotional distance between herself and her work.
She acquires the capacity to zoom out, to see her material not through her own hope- or dread-freighted eyes, but through the lens of the impartial, impatient (and, yes, sympathetic) reader.
She stops looking at her stuff like an amateur and starts viewing it like a pro.
61. THE ARTIST LEARNS HOW TO HANDLE REJECTION
Can you see the theme running through these chapters?
The theme is maturity.
The theme is professionalism.
The theme is mental toughness.
Every one of these skills (and the ones in chapters to follow) requires of the artist a profound shift in perspective and a quantum breakthrough in emotional self-possession. This work is hard. It hurts. We are beating our heads into a wall, hoping to teach ourselves to stop.
You may scoff at what I’m about to say, but we are becoming Zen masters.
We’re training ourselves to be Jedi knights.
I know, I know. “Every writer and artist I know,” you say, “is a lush, a sex addict, an emotional infant, simultaneously a tyrant and a coward, an egomaniac, a depressive and a flaming, incurable asshole.”
That may indeed be true.
But that’s not us.
That’s not you and me.
We are not going to be beaten by a pile of rejection slips (or even that excruciating close call that put us within inches of our material and artistic dream and then was snatched away at the fatal instant for reasons that were inane, arbitrary, or nonexistent altogether.)
No one said the artist’s journey was easy or without pain.