I remember when I was a little kid, my family and I would take these long trips from New York to South Carolina to visit my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side. It didn’t help that my dad was fiercely obedient to the speed limit, so that trip would sometimes take like fourteen, fifteen hours. And there I was in the backseat, squirming, my butt aching from sitting too long, and in my head I was screaming as loud as I could, “ARE WE THERE YET?”
That’s what I find myself doing in my life right now, from an artistic perspective.
I think we all want to be there. That point where you feel like you’ve made it. Where you’re at that Jim Lee, Joe Mad, LeSean Thomas level. When you’re right up there with all the greats. But even the greats are still striving to improve, so what is there really?
I’ve shown my work to people and I’ve always gotten different responses. Some people think that I’m there already, some think that I’m not even close, and some think that I’m almost there. I’ve heard all this different feedback from a melting pot of friends, pros in the industry, and acquaintances, but it was that almost that always got to me. That feeling that you’re right on the cusp of where you want to be, but still not close enough to fully grasp it, was always the worst to me. Because in the eyes of people who are way more advanced than you, you’ll always almost be there.
Then I began to realize one important thing: it doesn’t really matter. For me, personally, I’ll never be there. And I don’t mean that in a depressing, down-on-myself, kind of way. I mean that I’ll never be there because I’ll always want to improve. There means something different to a lot of different people, so everyone has a different opinion on what there actually is. I’ve met artists who I personally believed were there, but all they could see were the mistakes in their own work, errors that were oblivious to me. At the same time, there are pros that some would say are there simply because they’re deemed pros, while other people might think they have no business in the industry at all. There is subjective.
I think that most artists have this innate self-critic. You know that guy. The one that makes you feel like what you’re creating is dope as hell, then makes you hate it after you’re done. I think this goes for most people who are in the business of creating something from nothing. The self-critic in you wants to see that something be better than it was before, and it’s a vicious cycle that is both the blessing and the curse of the artist.
The conclusion I’ve personally come to is that there is not just about artistic skill. It’s about when you reach that point in time where you’re willing to stop letting that inner critic control your ability to go after what you really want. The problem with being there is that when we think we’re not, we tend to let that notion make us afraid to pursue our goals at the risk of failing. So we tell ourselves that we’re not ready. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying everyone is ready right out the gate. What I’m saying is, there’s a huge difference between saying we’re not ready because we’re really not ready, and saying we’re not ready because we’re just afraid. Be honest with yourself, from both ends of the spectrum. Know what you’re good at, and what you need to improve on, but never let it stop you from at least trying. Perfection and being there is just a pipe dream we sell ourselves so we have something to reach for. At the end of the day, anyone who cares about their craft is going to strive to be better at it. There’s no ceiling to that desire, no end to that road.
You know what the funny thing is about being stuck in a car for fourteen hours? You realize that you can either let it make you miserable, or you can learn to enjoy the ride.
…Actually, I just slept the whole time I think. But whatever. There’s a lesson there.
So what do you think? Are you there yet?