I had a good night at work last night. Not a perfect night, mind you, just a good night. And while riding home through quiet streets (I’m a pretty devoted bicycle commuter) I started to think about what made it a good night.
Now regular readers will recall that my current ‘job’ is playing piano and keyboards (and a bit of trumpet) for a crazy circus/cabaret/dinner theatre show called Palazzo. So when I say I had a good night, it means I was happy with my playing, and with how I presented myself and contributed to the music and the show.
So I got to thinking, what goes into that? In a nutshell, I need to feel that I’m basically ‘good enough’ for the job I’m paid to do, or the project I’ve taken on. Maybe a bit more than good enough, but at least that. I am not the kind of person that is able to be happy with myself or my work if I feel like I’m struggling and not really delivering the goods.
Since I grew up around a lot of scientists and generally like to systematize things, let’s break it down. What are the specific requirements of ‘good enough’ – or of ‘feeling successful’, as a wise colleague used to call it?
Well, I’ve come up with four which seem to determine it for me in my current line of work, and as usual I suspect they may apply more broadly…
What’s the difference between an artist and a technician? I suspect that the answer to that really depends on whom you’re talking to. I’m sure a lot of artists would say there’s all the difference in the world, but I’m not so sure I agree. I also think there are a lot of artists who get a lot done who might question the notion that there’s a cut-and-dried categorical difference between the two.
A lot of what really separates people who make art on an active, daily basis from people who don’t (but perhaps imagine that they could, or would like to) is not some mysterious source of ‘inspiration’ but technical skill and the experience it’s based on. And maybe even more than that, it’s about attitude. It’s about fearlessness.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve been immersed in a task that was highly technical in nature, and less overtly ‘artistic’ than usual. However, it has in a way been highly creative and satisfying and I thought it would be interesting to explore that a little – and get around the music-and-art-bias that sometimes pervades things around here.
I’ve been thinking about joy.
Perhaps triggered by the last post here, where it formed the focus of my central complaint about an otherwise quite amazing and important book… perhaps heightened by being near the end of a two-month holiday away from my instrument and principal creative medium, and looking forward to a blissful reunion.
Regardless, joy and creativity are on my mind, and I’d like to explore the connection between them a bit further this week. In my opinion and experience there has to be some joy in the creative process, on some level, even with dark material (and trust me, I’ve contributed to some very dark material), or else the whole thing feels hollow and cheap.
I have to be careful here, because this is dangerously close to a kind of Kumbaya, rose-coloured-glasses view of creativity and art as essentially light and fluffy, warm and fuzzy. There is no lack of this around the net, and I am not eager to add to it; generally it strikes me as unexamined and shallow.
No, I’m after something deeper, a kind of spiritual joy that comes from much more intensive and uncompromising self-observation and examination. I want to understand this joy and try to figure out what makes it tick, and how we might create the circumstances that give rise to it, a little more often…