Mama Used To Say...
So, Yeah... We all get told and warned and taught how to do things from the time we first learn to act out our independence. From the first time baby us grabs at a pair of glasses or touches a stove or pulls a dog's tail we are learning lessons. Hopefully we keep learning bigger and better lessons after we learn the basic dumbshit like "FIRE is HOT" or "DOGS BITE". Hopefully we learn things like subtlety and patience and tact. Hopefully.
I have always had a distinct problem with learning certain things. I know fire is hot but how hot? How long can I stand two inches from it playing "I'm not touching you!" ? How long before the pitbull's warning snap at my hand catches and breaks the skin?
I've always been ambitious.
I try to learn. REALLY!! I do, but after I learn the basics I need to go deeper and find out the limits. It took me years to figure out how to reconcile this as a learner.
Now here I am as a big ol' teacher type adult, a "professor" as I am sarcastically called by some. I teach habits and skills and ways of being a learner to young artists and have some pretty cool successes. My swagger is often on level 10. That said, I am also a learner still. In this I have no shame. I humbly embrace the fact that I know very little about certain things. It gives my brain things to do. I love learning so much that I still often push deeper and farther into the unknown to get to the truth of an idea or to the limits of a process. I am recklessly ambitious at heart.
My godfather, a Jamaican man born in the 1920's used to say to me, "BWOY!!! Ambition comes first!". He usually said that when describing someone he thought had very little of it.
I took it to mean that without ambition nothing was ever possible. I internalized that idea. I believe it. He still climbs ladders to do roofing at 86 years old, I blame my "over-doing it" nature on the Jamaicans in my life; my mother, my father, my siblings, my pops.
My mother was no less ambitious. Without much formal education she raised and fed and sent to college more children than Ol' Mother Hubbard. She started an educational program for adults in Jamaica and kept the local school in her district open and funded through her thrift and work in the states. My mother, however, knew when enough was enough. She used to say, " If the fish kept his mouth shut he wouldn't get caught."
This October I would have done well to remember that. I employed my penchant for braggadocio and bluster to talk my way into opportunities and relied to heavily on my love for planning to get me through an overly scheduled month with lots of overlapping deadlines. I needed to prove that I could take on the challenge of being an artist and making it profitable. While I did meet most every deadline the quality of some of the projects suffered.
(This was the plan for one of two public art installations)
(Here is a piece of the second installation in process)
Some will still congratulate you and be supportive when you do things just because you've done them. Others will acknowledge your hard work first and then go in on the areas that needed more attention. I appreciate that. Some folks don't know or care about why your quality is poor or workmanship is shoddy. I appreciate that too.
My friend Tim sent me a quote from C.S. Lewis that read, "Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails towards success." I appreciate that. It is with that same sentiment that all artists persist and work toward the unseen. I beleive it is necessary. I usually plan for my failures to be in the development process and not in the final work.
I learned that in working in public and with lots of variables in mind the chances for things going wrong increase dramatically. You need to have ample time to prototype projects and see the close to final product in real time and space before the deadline. The impact of the project needs to be even more ambitious to compensate for the let down by degrees.
I have to keep the axioms in my head and all the mottos from conflicting and getting me into shit I can't get out of smoothly. There's almost nothing I can't do with a pen and some paper or some paint and a wall. The next levels of sculpture and installation though? Yeah. I need to keep my mouth shut and study for a bit first.