I realised, after posting last week’s Blog, that I had used the title and the concept ‘What To Do Next’ for a previous post. I felt a little ashamed about this, and checked through, noticing that I had also used the title ‘Journeys’ on two occasions.
It doesn’t seem to matter much, but repetition might signify a lack of ideas or inspiration, a kind of mediocrity, a mediocrity that we all experience, and which is an undeniable part of us – just as our excellence and most dismal performance is also part of us – but which we try to avoid displaying in what we call our ‘work’.
Then again, here we are with that part of my ‘work’ that is my weekly Blog post. I know I don’t devote much time to this, just about half an hour a week, and so I could say, not much ‘care’ and consideration either. And so, if I display my mediocrity here, maybe that is appropriate to the Blog form, maybe that is even crucial to the Blog ethos and the culture of the internet i.e. not to achieve or strive for ‘excellence’ here but a kind of everyday, nodding-along OK-ness that is sharable with the rest of humanity? Perhaps, in the 21st century, an artist should aim for mediocrity, not excellence?
Somehow, I think Andy Warhol would have liked that sentiment. He saw a kind of glory in ordinariness, famously saying that (to paraphrase) ‘the great thing about Coke is that even the Queen of England can’t have a better Coke than me’.
Nevertheless, I do use, think about, aspire to the concept of excellence quite a lot. I always want to create better and create my best. In fact, what I call excellence is actually more than excellent. i.e. I feel that when I am really ‘excelling’ (and this is starting now to sound like maybe the wrong word) I am creating something that I didn’t know I could do and which I do not know how to do.
I have written guitar parts on the guitar that I then have to spend months or even years trying to play in the way they should be played. And that is strange. I have also written songs that I can barely sing, and while this is partly due to the fact that my songwriting might just be better than my singing, it also seems mysterious and fascinating to me that our body can know that place (that note, that pick or strum, chord or composition) that it also doesn’t know how to occupy.
I have written and (in collaboration) designed and produced books that I am so proud of, but looking back, it seems impossible that I wrote or made them. And I’ve written songs, poems, articles, essays, made videos and photographs etc. all of which, in retrospect, I am very proud of, and yet, do not really understand how they came to be made, what it took to make them, how I knew how to make them, or even what bar of excellence I was reaching for that informed this or that decision or when to declare them complete.
So much of art is a hunch, an intuition, and in this way becomes undeniably mysterious and esoteric. It’s unfashionable to claim that artists have ‘special powers’ or ‘genius’ etc. and even, today, to make any clear distinction between artist and non-artist. I agree with that democratic principle, and I do find art in all kinds of places and people of course. Really, everyone is an artist and we just choose to concentrate on that aspect of our humanity to a greater or lesser degree, channeling, expressing, training, reflecting, repressing, diverting or ignoring it as much as we want or need to.
And yet, the more you concentrate on the ‘art’ in your life or identity or humanity, the more, I think, you will encounter its mysterious and esoteric aspect, as you learn to work with and believe in your hunches and intuitions, and also learn to know that your ‘excellence’ lies, not just beyond your reach but perhaps just short of it, in a more awkward and unknowable place, a place you cannot aim for or occupy (an aphorism from Kafka comes to mind here “The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground …”
Perhaps then, we do our best and do our best work as artists, not when we are consciously focused on achieving or striving for excellence, but when we just do what we do, exploring our own forms and contents, with, of course, a certain degree of belief and self-confidence that is always essential, and making what we make to our own intuitive standards, and therefore oblivious to what both we and others call ‘excellence’.
Just to add, before closing, in all of the above time and its passing plays an important part that we haven’t begun to discuss. Works we made in relative modesty and long ago seem better in retrospect, and our ‘juvenilia‘ takes on greater value over time. We look back to past works wondering how on earth we could have made them.
I’ll illustrate this week’s text with a link to an article I recently published in which I began to investigate the concept of ‘juvenilia‘