Dissatisfaction 
Robert Genn

September 25, 2009

Dear Rodney,

Among the emails that came in after my letter about Low Self-Esteem, Ralph 
Giannattasio of Wyndmoor, PA wrote: "I don't believe I have LSE (if you 
listened to my wife she'd tell you I suffer from the opposite) but when it 
comes to my artwork I'm a real apologist. If art-LSE were painful I'd be 
rolling around on the floor in agony. Julia Child's motto was 'Never 
Apologize' and I believe I need to adopt that motto with my artwork. What do 
you think?"

Thanks, Ralph. Don't move too fast on that one. I've noticed a lot of really 
fine artists openly denigrate their own work. They're not doing it to attract 
compliments, either. It seems to me it's part of the stabilizing act we need 
for creative progress. It can even be false and self-delusionary, but it just 
might be a smart ploy.

Evolved artists compartmentalize their confidence. They tend to be audacious 
at the primary easel and critical at the secondary easel. Allowing themselves 
the satisfaction of dissatisfaction, they stealthily check their efforts for 
the quality they seek.

We all know of perfectly incompetent artists who never apologize for anything. 
This, too, is a form of self-delusion that sends a lot of substandard work out 
and about.

The real art is to develop the skills to vet your art prior to its completion. 
Clarifying and isolating elements in the work that may need revising--and 
doing so verbally--is not a bad thing, even in front of others.

The first trick is to identify those elements that are fixable and those that 
are not. The second trick is to know how to fix the bad stuff without losing 
the audacity you had in the first place. The third trick is to know it's all 
an illusion, and with the help of your devious creative mind you have once 
more done the best you can under the circumstances. The fourth trick is to 
avoid the trap of perfectionism. At some point you must abandon all your 
façades and get on with the next project, no matter what your wife says.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. 
My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. 
If I were once to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life, with 
its divisions and its clichés, it would be time to call in the undertaker... 
So, then, this dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me and has 
certainly, I know, worried others, has helped me in fact to move freely and 
even gaily with the stream of life." (Thomas Merton)

Esoterica: Dissatisfaction is a significant key to quality. "Art," said the 
American sculptor John Chamberlain, "is basically made by dissatisfied people 
who are willing to find some means to relieve the dissatisfaction." In the 
midst of dissatisfaction ways are found. Without dissatisfaction it is swiftly 
possible to fall in love with your own mediocrity. Utter dissatisfaction can 
be liberating. "If the wine is not good," said Michelangelo, "then throw it 
out."