Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ego Error

It's been a long time since I posted. (Not much of a blog if you don't post to it... I know.)  I was working on an art commission for a friend. He's a producer on the show "Jersey Shore" and he asked me to make a picture for him to give to his boss for an xmas present. My idea was to stick the four guys from the show into an old mafia mug shot. Seemed like a fun idea and, as often happens to me, I became completely absorbed and a little bit obsessed with the project. The first phase of the obsession was watching every single episode of the reality series. From episode one, to my surprise, I found it completely fascinating and addictive. Despite the obvious lack of intellectual content, the simple adolescent humanity of the show's stars was intriguing and I came to like many of them a lot. The second aspect of my obsession was an inability to capture thug-like Ronnie's likeness. His face became a fascinating, beautiful mystery to me and up until the minute I packed the piece into my car to deliver it to my friend, I kept reworking it over and over again.

I have no perspective on this piece anymore. For the longest time, I was completely in love with it. I loved the yellow brown background and the muted colors. The piece sat on an easel in my living room and I didn't want to ever give it away. I found it beautiful and soothing and then the night before I had to deliver it, I took one last look at it before going to sleep and suddenly it looked horrible, ugly and amateurish to me. My heart started to race, I couldn't sleep. I got up early in the morning and worked on it some more and yet my infatuation still has not returned. I got Ronnie okay, maybe. But never as well as I intended. And as for the overall quality of it, well... all I have for reference are photos now and photos never seem to do large pieces justice. So I don't know, I hope my friend likes it. I hope his boss does too, but the lessons I've learned from this are complicated and a little scary.

I put so much self worth on my own opinion of the quality of the work I do. I do not value myself for who I am, only for what I make. And I can be a very harsh judge of what I make sometimes - and at other times an ardent fan. There's a part of me that believes I should love myself for how I love others: my kid, my dog, my family, friends and neighbors... but that is hard. I have spent my whole life trying to make accomplished, beautiful things; songs, pictures, scripts and poems. And somehow lately my instinct to just let the beauty flow through me seems clouded and I have been trying to wrestle and craft the the things I make instead of just allowing them to flow.

Is it getting older? Is it too much time trying to please others to make a buck? The thing is it's all an ego problem. I want to make beautiful things because I really do see and imagine so much beauty all around me. Beauty is infinite says Emerson. But I also value myself based on these creations. I wouldn't go so far to say that if I make beauty then I too am beautiful, but at least I feel I have some value because I can make them. The ability to create more gives me a purpose. But if my work is bad, or I judge it so... then I am lost. It's judgment - spiritually shallow - freaking harsh and debilitaiting. If my work is not good, then I am not good. My life looses meaning. How childish! But that's the feeling.

I have been reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and I can't think of a writer who states profound truths more clearly or with more insight. Today I was reading his essay about spiritual truths. "Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one; on that side, all obstruction is taken away, and he sweeps serenely over God's depths into the infinite sea."

There have been many times when I felt like I was on the ship, riding down the center of a swift flowing river, but lately - for ten years even - I think more often I have been slashing through the weeds near the shore and breaking free into the current only every now and then. How do we put our ships back in the center of the river? I think Emerson might say the harder we struggle to do so the more tangled we get in the weeds.

The way is easy.

Until you've lost your way. Then finding your way back...? I'll let you know when I get there.

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