25 October 2014


I didn't mean to take this photo; it was one of
those, "oops I took a photo of the floor" ones.
The Abstract

To not accept something is to want to change it. A view of acceptance is realizing that we have done all that we can towards what we want. But why stop at all you can do? Could you stop much earlier too, and would it still be OK... or even preferable?

The Story

Have you ever been told to just accept a situation, but being told this left you feeling frustrated? It can seem like being told to relax, to love, to be happier, or to just not be hungry: the act of being told to feel differently than we do does not feel helpful in itself; it tends to result in feeling misunderstood.

For example, imagine being told to accept the end of a relationship. It's easy to imagine feeling angry and frustrated by the loss, and to feel that the people telling you to just accept it are not respecting the pain and longing you feel for that relationship. We don't want to suffer, but being told to not feel the pain, and to instead accept the way things are is incongruous. And there is a deeper problem in being told to accept what we feel are bad things: it can double as telling us to want something different than we want, and implicitly cast a shadow of shame on who we are.

So what can be said that is better than 'accept it'? After all, when we tell people to accept something, it is usually because we feel that nothing can be done to make the situation better than it is. Here perhaps is the clue... can we interpret acceptance in way that we are not left with a feeling of disrespecting our pain and loss?

An analogy with drawing: when drawing there is a point at which any other line added to the picture makes the picture worse; a point when nothing can be added to make the picture better. When the artist realizes nothing more can be added, this is a kind of acceptance of the artwork. It's not always a perfect picture; but short of throwing it away, it's what it is.

To me, this was an unusual but liberating image. Instead of fighting to accept what I actually don't want to - which feels like a disrespect of myself - the image moves me to be curious about what I have done so far, where I am, and to ask if there is an action I can take that is truly helpful? Or maybe there isn't? Have I done what I want already, have I done less or more? Sometimes we need to stop adding actions, drawing lines, pushing, and trying harder to do more stuff because it is counter productive to do so. We can ask have I drawn the last line that I truly wish to? This question makes me feel I have choice; and perhaps provides a path to accepting if indeed I have. Maybe it would be easier to accept a situation if people had told me that they thought all that had been possible to do had already been done. Then acceptance would be my choice again. So maybe the question to ask is: do you think there is more to be done that will help you? This separates the current state of pain, which is whatever it is, form the question of should one act further.

This concept of acceptance, with the wrong squint, may have a ghost of perfectionism lurking in it. And this brings me to a another concept. It is tempting to say the picture is as perfect as it can be. But why stop there? Why not retreat all the way back to a concept 'good enough'? We could stop drawing much earlier, when the picture is good enough; when it is sufficient for what we want it for. And now I feel the landscape is truly laid bare and its freedoms presented: at this point it seems we can walk as far as we like on the field from the best possible to the minimally sufficient; and perhaps this philosophy just comes down to just asking oneself where do we want to go now?

And that's good enough for now, so I will stop writing. Happy weekend.


Sahar said...

I liked the analogy. But, the question you are asking sounds like “is my drawing good enough to stop adding another line?” To be fair, the question is “is my drawing so bad that I cannot improve perhaps with adding another line?”
Your drawing was not looking good enough, otherwise you could have kept it. Your pain and loss is because of so much energy and time you have put on your drawing for years and years but at the end you have to accept you couldn’t make it right; for many reasons, you were not a good painter, or you did not choose the right picture. You feel having wasted your time and energy - for some people, their youth. That’s why you may not accept to stop adding another line, stubbornly, hoping for it to be improved by one miraculous line. But, you may be wrong, and just make it worse, wasting more time and energy and your life moments. Or, not. You do not know the answer, no one knows. That’s why they tell you “You have to accept that your drawing is so bad that perhaps you cannot improve it with adding another line.”

Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound pessimist or to hurt you at all, I just thought that was the true question in that analogy.

Sahar said...

Reading Balzac's "Unknown Masterpiece", I'm not sure any more if an art work can easily be tagged as a bad art work ...

iislucas said...

There are certainly many times when one feels one can work on a picture to make it more satisfactory. I'd say that is the normal state of affairs. The analogy is to point to our capacity to feel that, at some point, trying to do more will not actually make things better. Of course there is uncertainty in this too.

In my experience of making art, the feeling of when adding more will detract from the artifact is surprisingly tangible. It takes time, and is one certainly ends with many pictures, poems, and dance-moves that leave one frustrated. Part of learning where and when the last line has been drawn is to experiment. It's important to have had the experience of adding a line that damaged a picture (from one's own subjective sense). And it's also important to have had the experience of making a breakthrough and significantly improving a picture by adding something one was initially scared to add.

You don't have to have perfect knowledge, but just to develop a feeling for the actions you take and the impact they have. Try stopping sometimes: wait a little and see what it feels like. Try adding things sometimes when you are scared to.

I think the question of art being bad or good is orthogonal; this is just about one's subjective feeling towards an action, and growing a sense of when to stop acting, be it stopping yourself from sending that 5th txt message, writing yet another line, or rushing in another dance step.