Guest post by Josh Kaplan
Did you ever watch Happy Days? I always used to be so envious of the Fonz, his confidence, his certainty that he was the absolute coolest guy in the room. Watch.
Everyone in this scene is trying to make sure they look their best before going out to face the world. Everyone except the Fonz. He takes one look and realizes nothing could improve on what he is seeing in the mirror.
Not many of us ever feel that way.
When you have been married long enough, you begin being able to understand the complex emotional tableau hidden in a simple word or phrase. One example in my house is the word “f**k.” When spoken forcefully, when it is the only word in the sentence, when it is delivered not with anger, but dissapointment, and self-recrimination, usually means only one thing. “I was working on a painting – it was really working, but I kept painting, kept adding layers, trying to make it perfect, and now it sucks.” I’ve been through this with Lonnie a hundred times. It’s not unique to her, it is part of the yin and yang that lives close to the surface in any creative person’s soul. The inner-critic, the subconscious naysayer that can cripple artistic expression.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for self-criticism. Bad things can happen when an artist reaches a point where the ability to judge one’s own work is silenced by success, or ego, or Jack Daniels. If you are looking for a tangible example, listen to a couple minutes of the Beatles “You Know My Name.” (Listen below.)
I think we would have all been better served if Lennon/McCartney had listened to a whispering voice of self-doubt.
But that’s an exception, for the most part our “inner critic” is just a roadblock between us and artistic creation.
Yesterday, I saw what I considered a watershed moment in my house. One of the things Lonnie likes to do, is take one of my photographs, and use it as the literal canvas for one of her abstract pieces. Here’s an example (Pic #1) — a shot I took of a rusty old bumper at a local junkyard.
I love when she turns one of those quick unremarkable grab shots into something so much more interesting with just a few strokes of a crayon.
Earlier this week, she became intrigued by a shot I took of the rattan covering on our patio. Again, unremarkable. Her plan was to tear away the unnecessary parts, glue it to a canvas, and paint around it. When I next saw the photo, it was in fact, ripped along the edges, and glued to canvas. It was also hanging on the wall, a finished piece without benefit of any greater artistic embellishment. She had stopped along the way, looked at it, and decided that simple was better, that nothing more needed to be done, and pronounced the work complete. BREAKTHROUGH!
She took the time to breathe, to live with the artwork for awhile and silence the voices always screaming at her to do more. Maybe those voices will be replaced by other ones, more supportive ones. Maybe in the meantime they’ll just be supplanted by a simple mantra: STOP. JUST STOP FOR A LITTLE WHILE. Give yourself time to appreciate how good the piece really is, before you race to make it better. You may find it was like Fonzie’s hair — perfect all the while.