a status to set you free
This winter marks the second year that I have been teaching. The one problem that keeps on haunting me is the entitlement of success. It seems none is immune to it.
It is good to ask more out of oneself. However, the arts leant its success on strong personality and ambitious characters. Our culture insists that tortured genius as a successful persona in the arts. It is fair to generalise that those working in the arts all have various degrees of ambition for legacy and a desire to be seen in their lifetime.
Despite struggling with low self-esteem as a teen, I had an unwavering belief that I’m special. I often berated myself easily for failing this expectation in real life. Upon reflection, it is clear that some of the pressure comes from my parents. I have internalised their expectations into commands.
It would be unfair to blame everything on the parents, it is still unclear to me why you believed that I am destined for more than what imagined for me.
I know that poetries and fictions have filled my mind with stories of misunderstood individuals eventually find her footing in the distance or exotic land. I think I needed to grasp those stories to survive the volatility of my family life and the demands of being a teenager.
I don’t think my story is unique. I feel a sense of belonging to artists and creatives. We are a group of people whose impulse was to create, while others might intuitively destroy. Our work feels like the justification for the traumas lived through. While others might have sought comfort in popularity, we made comfort in creation. Choosing this path itself might not be noble, but more out of survival. If you are any good at it, this career path can be very glamorous. That glamour helps to give one a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Chasing glamour is a futile game. I have my own brush against, and I had fun. While I was having fun, I was not aware that everything has a price. I would not have listened if I was ever warned that then. So these days I don’t warn others are chasing after that tail into the dark night.
I must confess that I am a very idealistic person. This trait has gotten me into troubles and triumphs in almost equal measure. I am very much a student in the Academy of life. I’m also incredibly stubborn. At times, people have mistaken the stubbornness as confidence. So have I. Without being cynical, it is my observation that life is disappointingly unremarkable. Thank all diety in the world for that.
When you have nothing but your ideals to live for, it is challenging to accept how unremarkable life is.
The futility of constructing your personhood by the whims of triumph and defeat is pure tragedy. I remember receiving the news of winning an industry award in the middle of tipping cat litter into the wrong bin. As the leading professional, I had to tip stinking cat mess from paper recycling bin into the general waste. The whole affair took place in the mild drizzle while I was wearing open-toe shoes. When I received the news of my grandmother passing, I found myself amidst a crowd of good friends celebrating a birthday in the most glorious summer evening England can offer. Life never fails to remind you how you unremarkable you are.
It is understandable that one comes with high hopes and dreams at the door of an arts institution. Without this promise, why bother, why go on? Most people know exactly what they’re getting themselves into when applying art school. You have to accept that you will be very poor and very few understand the plight of a creative career. The latter is really a stickler. A lot of artists I know quit because they were too lonely. To them, I do not hold contempt but deep empathy. I can only count myself lucky to survive another day.
From my artwork to my personal life, I have embraced vulnerability publicly. To me, it felt like a necessity to be open, in fact, to be excessively so. I don’t want to feel lonely. Therefore I overcompensate through confessional work. To work through my most intimate emotional and psychological demons publicly gives me a sense of power and control. If I’m to be shot down, I insist on holding the gun.
There are plenty of people publicly despised my work because I make them feel uncomfortable. I never felt the need to take their objections too seriously. I’m not responsible for discomfort as much as they are not obliged to engage with my work, or indeed me. I don’t see the logic in defending nor persuading others to share my values. In my experience, the number of people resonates with my work trumps the number of people who aggressively disagree.
I must admit there is a sense of entitlement in the choice I made and continue to uphold being an artist who makes confessional work. I act on survival necessity to slice myself open and bond with others through trauma.
When I see my students suffer from regular toil of being an adult in the late capitalism, I often soothe them by pointing your how unremarkable day-to-day is. There are tasks you have to do to survive and to feel you belong to something bigger than you. Even the most glamorous creative endeavours are all about teamwork and administration. You may have an incredible capacity for growth and remarkable resilience, this doesn’t guarantee you will win, neither always nor ever. Luck is a big part of living. It is an illusion that our life is the result of meritocracy. This illusion rejects the fact your efforts are unremarkable. If your actions are well received by others, chances are you are fortunate. There are lots of books in the series on making your luck. Some are very helpful in managing productivity and status anxiety. These authors seldom address the source of emotional and visceral pain is our expectation of a remarkable life.
A remarkable life is utopia. The geography of this utopia is very flat. One that is predictable and in unchanging. It is not a place for anything uncertain and unknown. it is not a boring place neither. It can contain one’s favourable and undesired conditions and memories. You may get lost in the variety of its landscape that you never lose your way around. In your personal utopia, you always have the choice to have a bird-eye view instantly. It is truly a remarkable place, and you are never arriving.
Every day, I watch many of my students paying the daily pilgrimage to their utopia. It is not my place to tell them to stop or alter their course. Because I am doing the same thing. My job is to care about them through their education. I can’t save them nor myself.
I find great solace in the acceptance of how unremarkable I am and my life is to be. I find it comforting, knowing that my problems are normal and are not unique. Others can perceive me as remarkable, and it feels good to be held in awe. I am in no hurry to take their opinion as truth.