True artists have great taste. Baby artists have it too. Conflict happens when baby artists make art that doesn’t match their great taste! Singing as an art form is risky because failed attempts are so embarrassingly loud. It takes courage just to open your mouth after a failed attempt at a high note. The impetus to cringe or to judge one’s own attempts at singing harshly is caused by your good taste! Singers with bad don’t think the screechy high note failed, they think it is great!
It is exactly this good taste that makes great artists quit too soon. I started learning the violin at age eighteen. My feeble attempts at “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” were unbearable. I knew that any first attempt at that sacred instrument would sound bad. But I had no idea how bad. I couldn’t last the summer. My progress was way too slow. I put the violin down and never picked it back up.
It takes a while to master the fundamentals of any skill. If you can be patient with yourself and stay disciplined, eventually the art begins to appear. At some point along the way you, the artist, takes stock of your skill and your prospects for a career. If you are beginning to think of a career, then you have mastered the fundamentals, but you probably have only made a little art. Enough to catch a glimpse. This is a crucial moment.
This is the moment when most singers stop. They graduate in splendor. When the dust settles they look around and notice that no one is trying to hire them.
Once you feel comfortable enough to go out and be judged in the marketplace another level of stress piles on. After you’ve been in the marketplace for a while and become familiar with all the power plays, you begin to relax. Then a weird thing happens…your skill, which was already pretty good, goes up another level. It starts to be fun! Once it starts to be fun then you start messing around with it and breaking all the rules. That’s when true genius is born. Genius is skill proficiency plus messing around!
Computer whizzes create programs in their garages because it’s fun. Movie makers try out weird technology or camera angles and create ground-breaking films. Composers who try a new electronic sound or Tibetan bell just for giggles and come up with a new genre.
Granted, it takes a while to get there. Becoming proficient in any skill takes a little while. Getting through the testing ground of the marketplace knocks a bunch of competitors off their game. It is usually at this juncture, obsessed with the competition and their power plays, that we get knocked around and fall down a lot.
That’s when we start to judge our own work too harshly and become vulnerable to the quitting bug. It is precisely our good taste that makes us hate our work when it isn’t fully formed yet and makes us want to believe we don’t have what it takes to be good. As Ira Glass from This American Life on NPR put it, “…your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?”
That inherent good taste in so many artists makes us know that we aren’t there yet. Then, when our defenses are lowered, we question who we are as artists and wonder if we really have it after all. The bug has made itself at home. As Ira says, “A lot of people never get past that phase and a lot of people at that point quit.” (Ira Glass on Storytelling, part 3 of 4, youtube.com)
Keep doing it until you get it right.
If you can get through that phase, something happens. You enjoy it! And, if you are brave or if you just don’t care what others think, then one day you start messing around with it. You add new elements or do something as a joke and, voila, it works. You know it’s working so you play around a little more. Before you know it, you’re Bill Gates or Oprah or Tina Fey!