I’ve had a few really contentious relationships in my life. A few have been with other people, but the worst one has been with myself. One major component of the latter has been how I relate to standards–I become aware of what “the best” is in the activity upon which I’m focused and then I do the perfectionist thing and don’t remotely value or acknowledge the existence of any steps between “hi, I’m new” and “I have a world record in this.” If the activity doesn’t have world records, I will not rest until I figure out what the equivalent to a world record for that thing might be. And then I’ll hold myself to that standard. And then I’ll always feel like shit about myself because I do not exist on a level commensurate with that standard, even when I’ve made massive steps between “hi, I’m new” and “I was new to this about two and a half years ago but I don’t have any world records yet.” That two-and-a-half-year time period is in reference to my time powerlifting, by the way.
One part of my life that presented a near-complete escape from this constant sense of inadequacy was my involvement in visual art (I refer to it in the past tense because I haven’t been able to generate enough momentum to actually propel myself back to a point of making work, but I’ll get there. In the meantime, art is past tense and I think about it as such). I have always found solace in the fact that there is really no such thing as “the best” art. Whatever art historic scholarly crap you want to throw at me on this one, I don’t care, I will argue with the backing of a solid number of similar-minded art-appreciators that no one is or has ever been the single winner at art. It is this fantastic pastime, a mist-draped sea upon which an overwhelming number of people sail their own little boats and revel in the particular way each of those boats parts the water. I have reveled in my own work and I continue to do so, looking at paintings I did several years ago and never tiring of how completely “mine” they are. As overused as this sentiment might be, no one can paint those paintings the same way I can. No one can generate the exact imagery and the exact sentiments and moods that I have generated in the work that I have done. And they are physical totems, almost a collection of homages to myself, little beacons of the times I honored and treasured my own hand and mind enough to make something out of lifeless materials. It is an intensely freeing feeling not only to make art but to know that it now physically exists; it anchors you to acts of confidence and self-assurance
At least, that’s what it has done for me, anyway. Who knows about the other people on the other boats. For me, art got me pretty far down the academic trail, but I kind of screwed up its sacredness when I got on the final steps towards making it a career. That process is something I won’t go into here, but suffice to say that I am estranged from art now because I tried to make it do something it can’t and shouldn’t do for me. Another relationship turned contentious, I guess.
I used to write in this blog with the intention of discussing my powerlifting journey as it relates to and illuminates other parts of my life, essentially making powerlifting my “savior,” the thing that was going to be the cure-all for all my not-cureds. It doesn’t work that way, and it has never worked that way. Sometimes lifting teaches me a shit ton about the problems I’ve had and have outside of the gym, and sometimes other things in my life teach me about the problems I have with my lifting. The latter is currently in effect, for I have recently been piecing together why I never remotely felt about my art the way I feel about my lifting. Lifting, for me, can be a stressor, not just physically, but very much mentally. I cannot be aware of those standards set by those practitioners of powerlifting who are at the very top of their sport and be at ease with my own efforts. I mean, I guess I probably COULD, but I have no idea how. I’m working on it. Awareness is the first, massively frustrating step to change. You see the problems, the false logic and the irrationality and you don’t know what to do about it–yet. My experience with art has made it easier for me to see how some ways that I relate to my lifting are not healthy or positive or productive. This cognizance has already helped me neutralize some of the perfectionism in recent weeks.
A move to a new city, a new job, a new schedule, and a lot of things to tie up in between have left me scrambling to address aspects of my life that would benefit from being addressed, and one of those things is figuring out how to do art again. Once I resume making work, I will be able to see the limits of perfectionism far better than I have been able to in quite some time. I like extremes and being the best and trying to the be the best and hammering myself until I have to take a deload and all of that hardcore bro bullshit, but sometimes obsessively focusing on the highest standard isn’t the most productive way to approach a relationship. If it was, Kyle would totally leave me for how often I don’t do my laundry. Seriously.