I can’t tell you what it is, but…

I subscribe to a artist newsletter, and today’s edition came with this observation–

Perhaps a lot of Western Art has tipped too far toward our personal demands for private joy. Further, many artists are trying to combine casual pleasantries with secure cash flows. It’s nice work if you can get it, but it may just be mastery that gives the truest joy. “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word: excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” (Pearl S. Buck)

Do you think we have tipped too far towards private joy? What is excellence? Do you know it when you see it?

making something
making something

8 thoughts on “I can’t tell you what it is, but…

    1. I think it is about the joy in what you’ve done compared to a job well done–and liking what you do and what you do being any good are two different things.

  1. I think the mastery and personal joy go hand in hand; the private joy of mastery is there for the taking. Yes, I’d love to be considered a master of my craft, but won’t that at the same time bring personal joy? How is private joy different?

    Now, recognizing it when I see it is another matter. It depends on the artform, I think. Sometimes I can; other times, not so much.

    1. I think you can be a master at something and get no joy from it. I think you can joy from work and be no good at it. But here, I think part of the idea is mistaking how much joy your work can give you for actual quality. Does that sound harsh? I don’t mean it to, but some people think that because they had fun making it, means it is well-made–and this may not be the case. But who decides excellence anyway?

  2. I think there is a difference between private and personal. Private doesn’t let the viewer/reader/listener in. Personal speaks of universal truths that we all share… yes they are particular to each person… but for some reason, we know, we understand.. this is what it means to be human.

    I’ve done both personal and private art and writing. To be truthful, the personal non-private is almost always better than the private. And by better, I mean more “excellent.” The private lacks perspective. In the private, although we are trying to explore the wreck, we are actually hiding from ourselves, so wrapped up in our private work that we don’t make the connections to the rest of the world.

    Private creativity can be really important… for our private selves. It’s more like therapy in my opinion than like art.

    But it’s in connecting to personal to the universal, and exploring craft as well as meaning, that we get to that excellence you are talking about.

    Now, I don’t know where all that came from. I haven’t reallly thought about this in a long time. I guess that kind of philosophizing doesn’t go away.

  3. When I sit down to start a new chapter (or heck, sentence) I’ve got to be in a state of mind like, I’m doing this for ME. Afterwards, if I’m talking to someone else about it, I might refer to “the reader(s)” — and if I don’t consider them at some point, take them and their needs and wants seriously, the whole thing collapses. But any time I’ve started out by considering the audience first, what’s come out has been crud.

    It’s kinda like when they’re giving you safety instructions on a plane readying for takeoff: make sure you’ve got your own oxygen mask on first and then take care of the person next to you. “Mastery” works the same way, I think. I have a really hard time imagining a masterful work that doesn’t start with the artist’s private joy… maybe it’s only a problem when the artist stops there.

    1. Oh, I hate the feeling of having stopped too soon. There is so far to go before being done with a story or work of art–but then again I can’t always tell where to stop.

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