October 9, 2012
This morning, a reader (who asked to remain anonymous) posed several tough questions: "Why," he asked, "do so many artists think they're hot stuff when they're not? How does this self-delusion occur? As an art instructor I'm daily confronted with it. Where do these folks get the authority to think they're competent when they're on page 4 of a 300 page book? What moxie do you have for pushing these folks to raise their standards?"
I confided to the strongly-worded Anonymous that my own moxie was annoyingly intermittent. But we agreed that it would be valuable to ask our readers what they thought.
It could be all about "Misguided Inner Authority."
These days, The Tools authors and Hollywood's favourite shrinks, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, are promoting "Inner Authority." One of their tools for overcoming inferiority and generating superior accomplishment is to stand tall with your "Shadow" (everything that's bad about yourself) in front of a tough, imaginary audience. It's like "facing your fear with a friend."
This preconditioning is all very well if you're asking a boss for a raise or taking a casting call. The concept begins to crumble when standards are hard. Like, for example, running a mile in under four minutes. All the tall-standing gumptioning while leaning on your shadow in front of imaginary people won't get you in shape for the run. Performance in running is measurable.
Some observers claim that over the last hundred years fine art standards have diminished. This condition, if true, gives heart to beginning artists to whom it all looks so easy. Add to this the epidemic of entitlement and "me-too-ism" running like flu through Western populations and what have we got? When the need for personal joy comes ahead of the obligation for skillful craft, mediocrity nods her head and smiles in satisfaction.
For those many among us who would aim toward quality, there are standards. Performance in fine art is also measurable. For what it's worth, here's some moxie: Be a perennial student. Know what "brilliant" looks like. Be a discriminating connoisseur. Be both passionate and particular. Destroy your substandard work. Determine your own laws. Give up sleep.
PS: "Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the laws. Others sense their own laws within." (Hermann Hesse)
Esoterica: Much of the "self-delusion" Anonymous is talking about can be linked to exposure. Because so many these days are trying their hand at art, poor quality actually overwhelms quality. Developing the inner authority to see and understand standards is key to developing and managing our own. Artists who would thrive and excel need to watch what they look at, analyze and understand the effective work of others, choose their teachers well, become attentive students and dedicate themselves to the mastery of their chosen processes.