I saw a play a couple of weeks ago called Red, which concerns the torturous turmoil of the acclaimed painter Marc Rothko during his lifelong struggle – a life Rothko ultimately self-ended – to make his art. Today, Rothko’s paintings are extremely valuable – at a 2012 auction, his painting Orange, Red, Yellow sold for just under 87 million dollars. (In these uncertain times in our economy, no one was willing to go the whole eighty-seven million. Either that, or the auctioneer was not trying his hardest.)
Unlike other revered artists in history, Rothko’s paintings were also highly valued when he was alive. But even that irritated the great painter. Rothko wasn’t trying to get rich, he angrily proclaimed. He was trying to “get it right.”
Not to compare myself with a genius painter in any way except this one, but I think about “getting it right” – I just mistakenly typed “getting it write” – every day I crank out one of these posts. It bothers me to feel that, somehow, I did not entirely “hit the bulls-eye”, though not to the extent of introducing any razor-sharp object anywhere close to my wrists. Reflecting either a sufficient degree of sanity or an incomplete commitment to my work, hopefully, the former.
I often hear myself gushing about how happy I am to be writing this blog. I can write anything I want, I explain. No bosses. No one whose judgment or authority I am enhumbled to submit to. I instead get to examine the attention-grabbing fragments of my mind as they come to me, free to explore the question expressed in a play called Luv (1964, by Murray Schisgal), that question being,
“How do I know what I think till I hear what I say?”
Blogging is an utterly pure expression – it is writing for the sake of writing. There is no money in it, and a minimal chance of big-time recognition. Blog writing, I tell people, is the most liberating form of writing I have ever engaged in. And after a career of writing only what the bankrollers were willing to pay for, it is monumentally gratifying.
But then – risking the sensation of personal pleasure in the name of a deeper, perhaps darker understanding – I find myself wondering if the release from the conditions I feel delightedly liberated from are inhibiting my chances of now “getting it right.”
I hated submitting to those conditions. But maybe, in some perverse “unintended consequences”, I-hate-to-admit-it-but-I may-have-to arrangement, they actually helped me.
Consider the competitive runner. Could they possibly establish their “best times” running
By themselves, with no one pushing them “to the max”?
In an entirely empty stadium, with nobody to do their optimal running for?
Without outside input, correcting the flaws they are “too close” to be aware of?
And with nothing ultimately at stake?
That’s blog writing. You write whatever you want. Free of external inference. But you are free also of external correctives and motivating incentives.
You just do it. Which is great. But “not being pushed.” Is that really the optimal arrangement for “getting it right”?
I don’t know. But – unexpectedly turning Scottish – I ha’e me doots.
Thankfully, as I was veering close to Casa Del Wallowing – my mind then turns to the question of the “Drive For Perfection” itself, specifically, whether this ennobling pursuit, as those who pursue it like to believe, is the exclusive domain of the “Creative Community.”
Do these anxiety provocations plague only the artistes engaged in creative undertakings? Or are they, rather, a more broadly exhibited, self-troubling turn of mind?
I am in no way intending to condescend here. People being people, I have the strong suspicion that the compulsion to “get it right”, rather than being the exclusive purview of “Creatives”, is pervasive throughout our society. I have often witnessed the unsubtle self-flagellations of intense bus drivers, and have wondered whether their obscenity-laced disgruntlements are linked to their inability to have “gotten it right.”
“Dammit! I didn’t make the light!”
These observations made me wonder if the “Drive For Perfection” goes beyond artists and bus drivers, extending – for some, perhaps, substantial number of practitioners – to every imaginable walk of life.
“I’m going to kill myself! I singed the toast!”
“Keep me away from sharp objects. I missed a deduction!”
“Samantha is supposed to sleep eleven-and-a-half hours, and she woke up after ten. God help me, I have ruined my baby!”
Paper Delivery Person:
“I am ‘hangin’ ‘em up.’ I missed the porch.”
In whatever arena – and I am convinced it is no stranger to any of them – the question is, does this tortured approach impel you more reliably towards the bulls-eye? Or is it merely some desperate appeal for public sympathy?
“I may not be perfect. But look how I suffer!”
I am probably not the “go to” person for the definitive answer in this matter. Who we really need to hear from is a happy-go-lucky practitioner who, despite their angst-free approach to their work, still consistently and impressively “gets it right.”