What is "Art?" That is an old question, which has been endlessly debated by people much smarter than me. Nonetheless, let’s try this: "Art is Self-Expression."
Wait, you ask. Is that it? Is that all there is? Is it art if my 2-year old dips his hand into the potty and smears a handful of goo on the wall and says: "Looky what I did!"
Well...yes and no. Consider "Art" to be like the water within a vase. What allows us to appreciate that art, or judge it in comparison with other offerings, is generally the shape and style and quality of the vase.
So...to appreciate art we need craft. If I look at the people I've known who were successful artists (proud of their work, popular with their audience, acknowledged by their peers) there are a number of things in common about them. Here are three:
1) They put in that "10,000 hours." Every time I've ever gotten close to someone who is considered a "master" (one in whose presence dedicated students feel uplifted. One who has mastered basics sufficiently that they can be re-combined, under pressure, to create spontaneously and unconsciously) what has been obvious is a lifetime of focused work. Millions of repetitions of the basics, whether you are talking martial arts, writing, or spiritual disciplines. I have been blessed to know masters in each of these three arenas, and they mirror each other beautifully.
2) They did not scatter their efforts. Although they may have astoundingly high skills in a number of arenas, they did NOT try to "chase two cats at the same time." There was something, SOMETHING that drew them most strongly, and they pursued it to the limit of their capacity, monomaniacally. This, BTW, comes of having clear values. Some have this quality naturally. Others must work at it. But if you would master your life, it is critical that you have a single thing that is more important than everything else. If you had a fever, and someone woke you up out of a deep sleep and asked you what was the most important thing, you could tell them, instantly. For me, it is "balance." What is yours?
3) They believed their own inner voice. They trusted their instincts. Now, this is NOT to say that they were not plagued by doubts. When you bet EVERYTHING on the belief that you have something to say, that you can be great...when you cut off paths of retreat, and sacrifice parties, and fun, and casual entertainments, and security for the privilege of spending their lives actualizing childhood dreams.
Take a look at Musashi's first two principles: DO NOT THINK DISHONESTLY, and THE WAY IS IN TRAINING. The first encourages you to ask the most important questions in the world: "What is true?" and "Who am I?" This is an inquiry into the Self. The true self, not the presenting aspects of name, occupation, history, gender, race, nationality, etc.
The second ("The Way is in Training") is a simple reminder that whatever you want to be good at, you have to do every day.
For the things I care about, that means:
Work breath, movement, and structure in yoga and martial arts EVERY DAY.
Read and write EVERY DAY
Meditate and connect with those I love EVERY DAY
Re-assess my goals and plans EVERY DAY.
With all of them, continually asking: "Who am I?" and "What is true?" Deeper and deeper. There will be no end to it, until I get to the answers that cannot be reduced further. And if you are measuring results in the external world, you'll notice that your work is sometimes better, sometimes worse, but that overall it improves, sometimes massively. But you will be practicing the "art" of being you. And that is the highest, deepest art in the world.
Friday, September 28, 2012
Posted by Steven Barnes at 5:37 AM