About six months ago, you may remember, Google put up a logo that looked like this:
(That’s the static version. If you haven’t seen the animated version, take a moment to watch it now. It’s worth the ten seconds of your time.)
Personally, I think this is one of the best logos Google has ever done. So, following typical Internet logic, I clicked the pretty picture and read the Wikipedia article. The dancer’s name is Martha Graham, and after learning all about her, I promptly forgot almost everything.
One bit, however, stayed with me.
The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She “confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.”
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough. She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.
This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to “keep the channel open.” And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.
But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?
None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.
Keep the channel open; make good art; give the world what it can’t get anywhere else.
Oh, and click on pretty pictures. That seems to help too.