Recently I read an essay about photography by a friend of mine, Austin Granger, and I was filled with envy. It was beautifully written, thoughtful, helped me see a familiar place in a new way, and left a lasting impression. Worse, it garnered comments grand and heartfelt. In other words, it was the polar opposite of the drivel I usually write.
For me, the cycle of envy starts with longing and hopefully ends with change. I first felt saddened that I was not writing in like manner–in a way personal and profound, observant and enlightened. What do I write instead? Rubbish that causes a chuckle but seldom includes reference to the inner struggle I frequently experience when I attempt to make a picture. Could I write as well as him? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Why do I not write that sort of thing? Why do I instead produce more lighthearted, self-deprecating pieces?
The answer is fear. I tell myself that no one really wants to know about the doubt, the longing, and the anxiety that accompanies all my forays into art, which can strike separately or all at once. No one wants to know about how I question my taste, my framing, my attractions. It’s not that interesting to read that I wonder why I do any of the projects on which I embark, and when completed can’t tell whether they achieve anything at all. Who cares about how blind I feel when looking at my own creations, how inept I am at judging their quality, how vulnerable I am to both praise and derision?
I know I am not alone in wanting to present the best me to the world, but I like to forget that the best me is not always the one that does things well. The best me is the one that fails, the one that cries, the one that doubts. The best me is the one that learns and grows and changes, and those things are more effectively learned when gleaned from projects that don’t achieve their intended end. In other words, it is of equal value to learn what does not work to what does, and a me that succeeds in all endeavors necessarily learns nothing.
After thinking about what Austin does so well, and I do not, all I can really do is recognize and accept the difference between us. I have chosen to write fluff because it is a direct reflection of my public persona. I find writing such pieces fast and easy, saving my more perspicacious writing for the journals I’ve kept for most of my life. I like to think that what I write, while not memorable, provides some small entertainment. For the little amount of work they take, all I can expect is a little reward.
The best part about envy is the self-examination it can provoke. I spent at least 2 weeks thinking about my writing and my art, and why something beautiful could make me feel so crappy. Underlying envy is self-dissatisfaction, a nasty little toad that can go unnoticed with a little effort. I had to figure out what would make that feeling dissipate and then take action to make it occur.
The result is that I have joined an informal art group that gets together weekly to work. I have pulled out my inks and paints and am picking up some old mixed media projects I put aside long ago. I have some new ideas for incorporating my photography into sculpture that I am eager to try.
Thank you Austin, for being a better writer and a better photographer than I am.