Friday, November 14, 2008

Reasons and Excuses

20. Reasons and Excuses

There came a point in my graduate school experience when I noticed a particular phrase creeping into my speech. It was the phrase, “…but I was afraid that…” as in, “I was going to go to the slide lecture but I was afraid that, as tired as I’ve been lately, I would just fall asleep, sitting there in the dark.”
Okay, I can see where that might be an unnecessary embarrassment, but it’s also inherently cowardly not to take the chance. You don’t go to graduate school to avoid educational opportunities or to make excuses for yourself. How about, “I had intended to go to the slide lecture but I’ve been so tired lately I fell asleep on the couch after dinner and missed it”? You still missed the lecture but you’re no longer being “afraid” and you may have done yourself some good with the additional (though unplanned) sleep. You’re also using reasons, not excuses, to explain your actions.
“I was going to make a series of these things four to six feet tall but I was afraid that…” What? You are in school specifically to be courageous. Hell, in some ways, you are an artist specifically to be courageous. This doesn’t mean that you need to mindlessly lunge towards every passing creative impulse but you must do things. For instance, “I was going to make a series of these things four to six feet tall but I went to a Richard Notkin lecture and was really struck by his challenge to create big images in small formats.” Or perhaps, “…but I considered just how long such objects would take to dry and realized that I could never get them fired before the [insert deadline here].” Or even, “…but I measured the largest available kiln and it’s only three and a half feet tall. I may have to arrange to fire them elsewhere or work out a way to fire them on their sides. In the meantime, I’m continuing the series in their current size and working on issues other than scale.”
By all means, understand your problems and expect to be a problem-solver. Pay attention to how you speak. However inadvertently it might be, what you say reveals a lot about how you think. And notice the important differences between reasons and excuses. The people around you can certainly see them.
You don’t have to conquer the world to succeed as an artist but some days you may have to conquer yourself. Sure you have doubts. We all have doubts. You may even have profound fears. Don’t dwell on them. Be courageous in the ways appropriate to you and all the rest can just stay your little secret. We don’t need to be reminded of the things you fear. What we need is to share in the glow of your successes and the cleverness of your ambitions.
No excuses, please, just reasons. Reasons will help you to define the limits of your aesthetic problem. Excuses make it all too obvious that you are the limiting factor.

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