I had the most exquisite day of conversation yesterday. Without going into massive detail, the ebbs and flows of chatter circled around the idea of letting identity die. Letting the idea of who we should be fall away to reveal who we are. As artists, it's particularly hard to define yourself when much of your true work goes unnoticed by the world. Not that our work isn't out in the world being bought and sold and published and rejected, but that the real work is intangible. Yes, I can write this piece and you can read it and say that is work. But the life-livin' moments that filtered into this writing and my ever-changing mental landscape that led me here are even more of the work than the actual crafting of words. I am my work.
A quote I have heard so often that resonates with me in this context is, "Art is about making complex ideas simple." In other words, it's about cutting the fat and communicating the essence of an idea. As a verbose, scatter-brained, 500-mile-a-minute person, I understand the effort it takes to communicate effectively. And to take what is by all means complex, your own life, and render it simply means crafting your everyday story like you craft your words, or your play, or your song, or your speech. Part of you has to die.
We have to die over and over again. We have to stay conscious to the shedding of our skin. We have to allow our work to become prescient, far-seeing and deeply wise. And we don't have to do this because we should, we have to do this to come into our potential. When an artist feels her work is living up to her potential, she has fueled herself for life. This dying is living. This ability to edit is the ability to communicate. For our work to have longevity, for our lives to be centered around good work and not what we think is the best, most profitable form of action we could take, we have to fuel it with the recognition and execution of our potential.
Now there are plenty of people in the world who don't care about potential and would rather make a buck or a name. And truthfully, depending on the day, I flitter between the two. I do desire money. I do desire affluence. I do desire significant attention. But my desire to be really good at what I do always outlives my desire to be comfortable and win lots of awards.
And I'm not suggesting that you can't have both a fueled creative life and lots of awards. I see lots of artists whom I admire with both. But the fuel for a creative life doesn't come from strategy, it comes from authenticity. It comes from telling the truth. How many times do we make moves or create things we think will be a big "hit" instead of compelling others to see what we see? How many times do we follow someone else's breadcrumbs on the trail to their success only to find that we can't sustain ourselves on that path?
The days when I ask myself what is no longer true today that was true yesterday are the days I do my best work. Those are the days my skin feels aerated and my ideas feel endless, colors are a little more vibrant and conversations are a little more full. When we let go of worn out convictions, we let a piece of us die. And then? Breathing room. Effortlessness. Ease. Excitement. Potential.
Photo via Craig Hanson Photography.