Embrace Bewilderment

If you’ve ever been fitted for glasses or contacts, you’re familiar with the never ending drone of the optometrist: Is it better this way, or this way. The perfectionist in me sees this as a test. How can I ace it and get the correct answer. But no matter how much I chase the “correct” prescription for my eyes, it eludes me. Option A is slightly fuzzy. However, Option B is also fuzzy, but in a different way.

In the end, I have to accept an imperfect solution. A fuzzy, undefined answer. And it leaves me bewildered. 

The poet Rumi once wrote: “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” No better piece of advice is there for the aspiring artist. 

Logic is the enemy of the creative mind. Knowing all the elements of what to create, down to the last detail, and then executing will make an excellent bridge. But it won’t make great art. 

According to Einstein, “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.” In other words, if you set out to paint a picture of a dog, and then you create that picture, you have only succeeded in making a picture of a dog. There is no mystery or depth. 

As artists, we set out to create something that doesn’t suck. Just like staring through those lenses at the optometrist, we see the least fuzzy avenue. By avoiding the worst elements, we begin to travel in a direction and start to carve out the shape of our project. Not this, because it sucks. But not this, because it sucks even more.  There’s never a certain well defined path. Because if there was, anyone would write a symphony or pen a novel. 

Artists spend most of their time adjusting. Sure, there are those moments when a painter has a blank canvas or a writer an empty computer screen. But mostly we fiddle with what we have. Writers spew out a first draft and then revise. Painters sketch and then refine or touch up. Directors hardly ever get the perfect shot, creating much of the film in the editing room.

A work of art is a can of worms. You try to wrangle all the elements together in some cohesive fashion. But those worms keep wriggling, wanting to break free. 

The best course of action is to let your work breathe. Don’t plan out everything. In the writing world, there are plotters (who plan out everything) and pantsers (who fly by the seat of their pants). And then there are plantsers (who plan, but leave a little bit of uncertainly in the process).

Allow yourself to be bewildered by your creations. A little apprehension can go a long way in creating something special. After all, we want to make something worth remembering.

Tim Kane

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