Is every artist, writer, actor filled with self-doubt or are there a few fortunate souls who know they are talented above most others and live day to day with that life-affirming confidence? I do not fall into that later category and as a measure of my self-doubt, I hardly count myself a writer, a craftsman maybe, but a writer, no, and probably not a very qualified craftsman, either.
I am always suspect of my talents, if you can call it that, always ready to admit that anybody could do it and that by that measure, I should just throw in the towel and get a job somewhere and leave this business to the real writers and artists. But I know somewhere in my atoms that after the self-flagellation is over, and if I feel that I have somehow succeeded, that there is no better feeling and that I do actually have value until I am faced with the empty page the next day and I have to jump in the shark cage again.
The key is for a writer is to write, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece every time, in fact, one masterpiece in a lifetime is more than anyone could hope for. There only has to be that willingness to turn the self inside-out, shake it up and see what it looks like, with all its beauty and ugliness and without any real advance planning. Bob Dylan once said that his best work came without much thinking and the works he labored over the longest, were the worst. And I heard Dylan once say that he writes in the same way that one makes puzzles as writes down sentences, folds the paper, tears it into pieces and then reconnects the pieces to see what kind of sentences he finds. So much for any pre-planning.
And furthermore, my identity is totally wrapped up in whatever skills I have. If you took away my abilities, as meager as they are, I’m afraid that I would disappear, leaving not a trace to be remembered by. I wonder sometimes about those people who can function and thrive solely on their internal strengths. How many out there are so self-confident that they are not torn by questions about their worth and how many could simply live day to day, happy and at peace with themselves, without the drive to continually prove worth?
I assume that artists, by definition, are wracked with self-doubt because they are constantly trying to prove their value by the painting, the book, the song. How can one even judge if their work is good? Possibly by the response from others but that wears thin so I would imagine the artist works for himself because it is his therapy and whether others like the work or not, is irrelevant. It couldn’t be any other way because rejection comes all the time and if that is the measure of value, a person would quickly be whittled away and disappear.
I enjoy when I get positive comments on my blogs but too often I qualify those messages of approval with the knowledge that these people know me and they wouldn’t expect me to be judged on the level of a writer who is acknowledged to be an artist. It is a trap to crave approval because it may be there one day and gone the next and using that as a yardstick, I might be worthwile on Tuesday and worthless on Wednesday and that just takes up too much of my psychic energy.
I believe that the only purpose of writing or any other kind of artistic expression is the satisfaction of self-expression that helps to resolve some question or inner conflict or confusion and another very secondary purpose is to offer up ideas to othersm maybe impart some wisdom that may help someone work out their own problems.
And then I wonder if self-doubt is the engine that gets me through my writing in that if there was no self-doubt there would be no reason to continue writing, no more riddles to be solved, no more emotional jungles to pass through.
I have read about great artists who destroyed their works after deciding they were not art and yet anyone else seeing the art would beg that it not be destroyed. I imagine true artists understand that inspiration if incredibly precious and rare and that most of the time, art is really not that good. But who is to say? The artist or the public? It’s a variation on the great Groucho Marx comment that he would not want to join a group that would have him as a member.
I once read that Picasso scribbled on a piece of paper and that it later sold for a lot of money. And I understand that Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life and that Moby Dick was rejected more than 20 times before a publisher came on board. Bruce Springsteen’s first album, “Greetings to Asbury Park,” was a bust and his career nearly came unhinged before it had gotten hinged at all and that Dylan’s first album was almost his last until legendary music man John Hammond pleaded with Capital records to give Dylan another try.
And I would guess that the floors of Picasso’s studios were littered a foot deep with discarded canvasses, that for every Dylan song that saw an audience, there were 100 that were tossed.
And that is only the ones I’ve heard about. Listening to those stories about rejection could drive you crazy and that’s reason enough not to care very much at all about the critics.
Actually, I write mostly to understand myself now if I can combine that into a best seller, that would be fine.