When I was just a lad—sorry, I couldn't help myself from tapping into my inner Irish urge to start every story with this saying. But when I was a child, somewhere between the ages of seven and nine, I was drawing on my Grandma's kitchen table. It was an old oak table, garnished with a simple strip of fabric down the middle. I sat on the same wooden chair my grandfather had sat on as he drank many coffees with my father. This morning, however, neither my grandfather nor my father were there.
Now, my older sister (whose age I will leave out because I cherish my life) was very interested in being a fine artist in high school. She loved drawing, and when I would sneak into her room to steal her Halloween candy stash, I would gaze at the artwork that plastered her walls. I sat at my Grandma’s table and decided I was going to be an artist, too. I drew and drew and drew. With crayons, with pencil, with pen, and (to the astonishment of my Grandmother) in my mashed potatoes as she screamed her stereotypical response at me. Nothing could stop me. I was set on being an artist. That was, until...*
I was sitting at a different kitchen table, sitting alongside my Mom. In her day, she was as good as my sister with a pencil—if not better. I looked across the table to my Mom and I finally had the gumption to say:
"Look Mom!" raising my doodle for display, " I want to be an artist."
Her response was spoken softly, but her words I would not overcome until my late teenage years:
"Marc, you don't want to be an artist. They are only rich or famous when they are dead. You don't want that."
Before you take any of my advice into your heart or mind, I want to preface this post with a short blurb about who I am. I am a simple freelance filmmaker, and a young one at that. But if anything, I feel this makes my perspective all the more relevant. I am not after being rich or famous. I have found a better reason to pursue my career. I speak about what I have found to work for myself and other artists in the beginning years of our careers. I hope this blog will be a source of encouragement to you. On that note, here we go:
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" 1 John 4:18
Wherever you are on the spectrum of faith or religion, I find that this sentence rings true in the hearts of men. And even more so in the complexity of creating honest art, regardless of the medium.
The fear I’m talking about is this: as an artist, as you strive to create, you will be probably be rejected by either another artist or even the mass population. For every artist, that moment will be a huge discouragement.
Only if you continually hurl yourself at this discouragement will your career be described as either a lifelong pursuit of creating honest art or a passionate, well-intended but ill-fated attempt. The freedom of having purpose in your work is the ultimate factor in winning this epic battle over external discouragement.
Also, having a solid grounding in who you are and simply knowing that you aren't perfect and neither will your art be, will help you find your unique voice and technical style.
Again, I want to take a step back and examine what I mean by "purpose." I do not mean narcissism or imply an hierarchy of opinion toward your own work over another. I mean a underlying objective to your group of work.
Having a purpose to even the smallest project allows you to know that your art is full of technical or skill-based imperfections, but that perfection is not the point. You tried, you created for a purpose, you are better for it, your audience is better for it. Any lack of technique will continually get better; it is your purpose that you need to focus on and harness. This is the first step in finding where you are as an artist and being able to move forward.
"To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"- Dead Poet Society, 1989 (screenplay by Tom Schulman)
The quote above illustrates your next move—forgive. As the script labeled "your career" has just begun, "what will your verse be?"
The most important step is to remember your purpose and forgive; you aren't that bad, at least not anymore. Forgive yourself for your imperfections that others will be quick to point out. It is okay to be imperfect, that's what makes you relatable and human.
To steal the words of the famous Ira Glass,**
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
The fact that you may not be happy with your own work means you have gotten better, so don't let the imperfections be anything more than an encouragement that you are better. You have gotten closer to achieving your taste, and if you can forgive yourself and stop being a discouragement to yourself for just a moment, you will be years ahead of others.
This step is to learn to make something, look at it for what it is not and forgive yourself and move forward. True: it isn't perfect. But you realized that, and the next time, with or without the same imperfections in your work, you are better for it. You will always be better for finishing and presenting your artwork to the world... or maybe just your mom—like me.
*Disclaimer: I have changed some key details here to protect those I care about.
** Ira Glass, "The Gap": https://vimeo.com/85040589