NON FICTION: The Artist’s Doubts

Typewriter

This piece began in the trash, and there it stayed till I met Myint Soe, a Myanmarese artist. He sat across me in a longyi, chin resting on his hand, as if he was smoking an invisible cigarette.

“If we look at this table, we’d both see the same thing. But if we were to put it in painting, we’d end up with different depictions of it. You see, artists are like drugs. We offer perspectives that people would never have experienced otherwise, and in essence, we become part of them forever.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how I found the ending to this story—a story I began with a question.

#

Is it good enough?

Every time I write a post, I brace myself for the accompanying hurdles. What’s in it for the reader? Am I using proper perspective? Is the topic exciting enough? Does anyone even care?

Then there’s the actual writing and editing, which is like being in line at the self-doubt buffet. This is where I often get snagged and bury most of my work in the Drafts folder.

After that comes the actual posting, to which many writers refer to as ‘baring the soul.’ This is where I ditch the self-doubt and start embracing self-consciousness. Every time I push the Publish button, it feels as though I’m opening another peephole into my most intimate thoughts, for all to see.

But I’m fortunate enough that my desire to share my work overrides my fear of being seen as a hack. For most of the time at least.

And this is as far as I got on my first draft before realising that there wasn’t any way I could highlight a writer’s self-doubt without sounding like a whiny little brat. There was no arc, no feeling, no meaning in the story. So I decided to cut my losses and threw the crumpled draft into the wastepaper basket, and that was that.

A month later, I was on assignment in Yangon and would meet Myint Soe as part of the itinerary. I was to cover the state’s hotels, so I wasn’t sure what that appointment was about (still don’t, actually), but it would prove to be an illuminating experience.

#

“What’s your creative process?” I asked.

“Oh, when the feeling strikes, I get my tools and begin painting. Sometimes, I get so carried away that I finish a painting within hours. Other times, the inspiration wanes. When that happens, I set the canvas aside, and only continue working on it when the feeling returns.”

“Oh.” That’s it? Writers are constantly told that bleeding at the typewriter is the only way to hone their craft. What’s this about working only when he felt like it? That’s like the literary equivalent of staying at the Four Seasons Hotel. Still, I prodded further.

“But what if you get artist’s block for long periods of time?”

Myint Soe smiled and pointed at his temple. “I might lose inspiration for one piece of art, but many other ideas constantly swirl around in my mind. Just because I stop work on one project doesn’t mean I stop painting entirely. Those are two very different things.”

“Okay then. Do you ever get held back by fear? Don’t you ever feel like your work is not good enough?”

“Why would you waste your time with that,” he said, “when people will judge you even if you produced the world’s best work?”

“I… wow. Now that you put it that way…”

“Tell me, Mister Stuart. Do you love your job?”

“I do…” I shrugged.

“Then that alone is the reward. Doing it. Art is not a very big thing here, but I love it, and to me, that’s much better than worrying what people think of my work.”

In a country with a minimum wage of three dollars a day, it’s easy to see why making a living as an artist would be tough. And with this economic backdrop, it’s pretty impressive that Myint Soe sells his work at thousands of dollars per canvas.

“Would you still do it if nobody liked your work, or if you couldn’t earn money from it?”

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in life,” he said. “Rest assured, there will be people that will like what you do. But how will you know unless you put your work out there in the first place?”

#

You probably know the first thing I did when I came home. I fished the ball of paper out of my trash can, flattened it out as much as I could, and began re-working a new story. I had found my narrative arc, and shit’s about to go down in these final few paragraphs.

In hairdressing, we have a saying: Even the best hairdressers have haters, while the worst hairdressers have die-hard fans. There will be people that hate and love your work, no matter what it is you choose to do, so it might as well be something you love doing, right?

So here I am, with a message that may or may not be a part of you forever. You might have your doubts, but embracing it is the only way to allow for potential fans to see your work.

But take that with a grain of salt, because this piece was literally a piece of trash after all.

11 thoughts on “NON FICTION: The Artist’s Doubts

  1. I love this post! Revealing yourself is the most scary thing and yet the thrive to do what you live is pulling you. I think that in the end it is worth it, because you will feel the satisfaction of having achieved the thing you like most :)

    • Am glad you liked it!

      I used to read about how writers felt vulnerable putting their work out there and thought it was silly. Lately, I’m starting to understand what they meant.

      • I think there are multiple kinds of being vulnerable. For example, I’m not afraid to say what I think, but at the same time I don’t want to hurt other people. I’ve written now two blogs which are about (quite generized) people’s activities in different countries, one in which I live in myself. I don’t want to hurt people around me or have to justify myself every time I meet someone who has read it. At the same time, I have to make a balance with what I think is important to state. It’s a different kind of vulnerability than being insecure of yourself (which is maybe even more difficult to handle). So yes, as you say and do, writing a blog needs some in advance thinking and you need to do what you love, but at the same time I also believe that you should sometimes also be careful with what you write online. But I really liked your post, because it made me realize that in the first place, you should write the blog for your own satisfaction.

  2. A lovely way to put down the trash. ;) Sometimes it’s the same trash that can turn you into something you have never thought of, and at times the gold you preserved this whole time doesn’t pay you well.
    The ARTS field is like that. We don’t get to decide if our piece will be well-received by others or not. All we can do is give our best, and hope for the same kind of response from others. It never is easy, but it’s all worth it.
    Liked this piece of Trash! ;) :)

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