Saturday, March 21, 2009

Post #50: Halfway there…

“I love criticism just so long as it is unqualified praise.” - Noel Coward

In retrospect, I should counter-balance the previous evening’s post with a positive note: I used to get suckered in by the “well if it makes a difference/if I can just reach one person” maxim, and would dutifully slog through all sorts of responsible activities in the hopes that my talks or teachings might connect meaningfully with someone, anyone in the audience/class. Well that got old after a few years, and I wound up going the opposite extreme of “nobody cares/what difference does it make” etc. which is a lousy attitude, unless you like playing the part of a bitter, misunderstood & unappreciated artist. Then, as typical for a high-wire act, after oscillating wildly between those two extremes, a tenuous balance is achieved; now it’s sort of an amalgamation, tempered with enough experience to maintain a much saner and healthier outlook. The number one reason for this is the undeniable, firsthand evidence that has steadily accumulated that, yeah, what I’m doing is working, and knowing why, and how, and even for who it has made a difference, is the difference between hopeless frustration and feeling validated, valued and productive.

Case in point; when a student who was flat-out failing achieves an incredible turnaround and demonstrates a stunning breakthrough in ability, even going so far as to actually redo every single assignment and critique to date – and not only that but taking all of the advice and specific suggestions for improvements and applying them and getting unequivocal results. Man I can’t say it enough; this is what it’s all about, these “small” victories literally make it all worthwhile, and the satisfaction creates enough energy and momentum to reinvest in the next person, and the next, and the next… and in myself.

Of course, this sort of dedication and feat of accomplishment in turn does tend to reflect badly on the couple folks who happen to be in the same boat, but refuse to invest the time and effort to change their situation. But I don’t have to really worry about that; there’s just enough warm fuzzies to muffle any such inconsistencies to my fragile, harmonious outlook. That’s probably why I think I’m really one of the funniest people around; at least my cats back me up on it. Maybe these sporadic victories are precious & rare enough that they assume disproportionate influence, or, I’ll jump at any excuse to maintain the illusion (oops, there’s the cynicism creeping in again). And it sure as hell ain’t like there’s any financial incentive for either one (spoken as both a lowly adjunct & cartoonist), but even then getting thrown a bone every once in a while helps a little too. What it all comes down to is whatever you need to just get by I guess.
But seriously, it’s happened to me enough now that even just the memory can carry me through the dark, depressing periods; can’t count how many times the casual, off-the-cuff comment made in passing from friends, family & fans just makes my damn day. I suppose there is a direct correlation between the observations made above re: teaching and the equally rewarding/disappointing realities in creating art. Both have their share of setbacks, frustrations and uncertainties, and both can sometimes just be a real pain in the ass, and drive you crazy enough to seriously contemplate giving up.

“You've no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself – and how little I deserve it.” - W. S. Gilbert


  1. I really enjoy your writing about teaching and art. You have a gift for expressing these principles and display a far-reaching intellect. So even if it's BS, you're damn good at THAT.

    In my own art I succumbed to the lure of minimalist influences. If a few lines could get the point across and get the laugh, that was efficient and perfect. I remember being helpless with laughter at some scribbled doodles a friend discovered stuffed into the bottom of his desk in high school. Laughed so hard we couldn't breathe. Strips like BC and Dilbert, single panels like Herman and others indicate the power of the minimal to evoke the laugh.

    The down side is that when an idea calls for more detailed rendering I have to work much harder to create a good composition that doesn't look like a treasure map. "Dig here for punch line."

    Time is key. My day job relates to other interests than art. My attention surplus disorder makes me interested in many things, all of which vie for my time. In a better-planned life I would have built more skills in youth. SO it goes. The active mind can always imagine more than it can achieve. The trick is to find the balance between scrabbling desperately and flopping in total resignation.

  2. "Attention Surplus Disorder" - oh man that's fantastic... >flop<