Many artists, myself especially included, live life with a peculiar, pestilent dissatisfaction. It’s the feeling that all is not as you would wish it to be. Essentially, the feeling can best be described as not yet being the artist you wish you were. That can mean in terms of skills, success, or acclaim…whatever. For some artists, it’s the insatiable drive to produce works that correspond, faithfully and in high resolution, to our imaginings of them, or else a life that matches up to our fantasy artistic self-image, which we hold dear.
That’s why we are so driven. As artists, we continue to hone our skills, challenge ourselves, learn, rehearse, improve, try new things out, grow, expand, perfect our work, make mistakes, be our own worst critic, repeat it until we can do it, tear things up, throw things away, practice, become obsessive, get frustrated, become impatient with ourselves, strive to bring the thing in our imagination into tangible reality, wish our art was closer to what we want it to be, etc. The reason we keep on going and keep on trying to be better is because we’re still not what we had in mind. This is where our own particular brand of artists’ madness comes from.
This pursuit never ends, until we are physically unable to pursue it any longer.
At some moments in the quest, you will feel you have come close to what you imagined and those are magical moments. Catching a tantalising glimpse of the work and the artist you wished existed in reality, which you made, yourself, can be a very encouraging thing. It can provide the fuel necessary to cross the next yawning, testing, terrifying chasm. As soon as you reach the standard you wanted to reach, you always imagine a higher one. At this point, you’re back to square one again. Having become what you had in mind, you are back to still not being what you had in mind. The only thing that changed was your mind.
At other times, the distance between what you had in mind and the reality seems so insurmountably far, that you want to give up. You can give up at any time, of course. You don’t have to let your imagination dictate your real life. Your ambition does not have to be your master. If you decide to proceed, it is because you want to. That’s important to remember. Your suffering is of the same species as Wile E. Coyote’s, chasing the elusive Road Runner. At any time you choose, you can stop and the pain goes away. On the other hand, another pain might take over…the pain of not seeing your quest through to its conclusion. Giving up is not a particularly satisfying feeling.
The quest to become the thing we had in mind never ends, because we can never become what we had in mind. There is always a newer, higher, better conception of ourselves in our imaginations, no matter what we accomplish or achieve. Peace only comes when we find a way to accommodate the persistent difference.
At this point, our art stops developing too.