Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Journeyman and the Genius

I just finished re-reading Steven Pressfield's "The Authentic Swing". I highly recommend it, as I have recommended his previous books, "The War of Art" and "Turning Pro".

In "The Authentic Swing" Pressfield exhorts creatives (writers, painters, musicians) to start. "You start. That's all you can do." He goes on to say that "An energy field is created by your love, your will, your devotion, your sweat. This energy field draws to it like-minded particles. You start writing a scene and suddenly a new character appears." This is like painting - a lot. You start with a shape or a color and then, bam! something happens and you continue. As one famous painter said, I think it was Jasper Johns, "you do something and then you do something to that."

It seems to me that this is coming from the Journeyman's point of view. You know the Journeyman (or woman). He gets up every day, bangs out the work in front of him and goes home.  Contrast this to the Genius, or better yet, the Tortured Genius and you will see the issue I'm working on here.  The Genius is the one who has to be inspired by the Muse, usually in the face of personal trials and tribulations, in order to create. The Journeyman's work ethic is much more orderly and less dramatic.

I'm trying to figure out if there is such a thing as a Genius, tortured or otherwise, and if being a Journeyman (which I consider myself to be) is good enough. Or do I have to set my hair on fire and wait for the Muse to knock me on my ass?  Or, if as a Journeyman, I draw the Muse to my work by my sweat and labor?  Is it good enough for me to put in the hours, diligently searching for the answers and racking up the experience? None of which, by the way, is ever going to garner me the cover of Artnews.

These things keep me up at night. I tell my students - "do the work, just do the work."  The work itself is the answer.

But now Steven Pressfield has gone and stuck a thorn in my side.  I thought I had this all figured out. I was happy as a Journeyman.  I wasn't looking for Inspiration From On High.  I believed that the work itself was the inspiration.  Now I'm wondering if I'm gathering enough "like-minded particles" or maybe my energy field is lacking.  I'm not trying to be funny here. I really do wonder.

In the end, I think, I'll just have to keep plodding along.  It's not glamorous or hair-raising, but it works for me. And sometimes, when I get it just right, when my heart beats a little faster after I finish the painting, I think I know.  I think Steve is right.  "The Muse is a lady and you can't say no to a Lady."   Which is another way of saying, "stop asking stupid questions and do your work."

Thanks, Steve.

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