Monday, November 29, 2010

A dia-blog on success vs. merit

A blog post responding to a blog post.  How very meta.

My friend Brian Rosen (a like-spirit: driven and multi-talented as a performer and creator) picked up on my post-partum depression post on his blog ("Music vs. Theater", what a thought-provoking title) where he writes insightfully about the distinction between success and merit:

"I think the trick for the emerging creative is to keep a rock solid wall between the concepts of merit and success. You need to be able to look at your output and see its merit without the coloration of success (or lack thereof). It’s the internal voice that defines your creative output, not the external. .... That’s the voice that needs to look at your work and say, “'Yeah. This is good. I need to make more of this.'"

(please read the whole post, there was too much for me to quote here).

To separate "merit" from "success", ah, but what a challenge that is!  To recognize and believe in the merit of your own work irrespective of what the outside world has to say about it (as well as to see clearly when the merit is NOT there) -- is this a challenge unique to artists?  Certainly an athlete has measurable goals - you know how fast you are or how far you can throw compared to someone else.  Doctors know if they make patients feel better, business people know if they make a profit, carpenters know if the house stands on its own or not.  Is there any other field where there is so often so little direct connection between merit and success? (I'm open to being corrected on this by the way, it's an honest question).

And certainly one must look at what others say about your work, to some degree.  We've all known those artists/performers/writers who think they have this amazing talent, but they just... don't.  I can think my play is great, but if no one wants to hear it, or if when they do hear it, no one responds to it, then I don't think I can really call it great.  I do rely on what other people think - not to the exclusion of own instincts, but along with - because my goal is to create art that speaks to people, that touches people, that causes them to look at something in life a bit differently than they did before.  To me, my instinctual feeling that my work has merit can only be validated by achieving that goal.  Which I can't know unless I put it up in front of an audience and observe their response.  How do I get my piece in front of an audience without some degree of commercial success?  I can only do that so far as my  resources allow me to produce my own works, which is in a very limited fashion.

So while I believe my writing has merit -- and I'm actually very critical and picky about my own work and will futz over a single line for hours til my inner voice tells me it's right -- those instincts are only validated when the work is in front of an audience.  Most of the time my instincts are right, but sometimes they are wrong.  I need at least some outside voices to be in accordance with my inside voice.  For me, that's the rub.
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