What is the best thing you’ve ever made?
I put this question, or some version of it, to friends sitting in my cold basement. We are sipping wine and turning philosophical.
We think back on our achievements. The evening’s context is art, so we recall the best pieces or shows we’ve been involved with. Great big full-room installations. A series of photos that hit the sweet spot. A rock performance for 500 happy teenagers. Moshing teenagers, even. All of this was a while ago when teenagers used to mosh.
Our answers turn us backward, pulling out relics for show and tell. We are older now. I wonder if we’ll always see our best moments in the rear view mirror, glazed over with the false fondness of memory?
Are your greatest achievements in the past or in the future?
We’ve just watched Cutie and the Boxer, a documentary about two married artists, one enduring in the life-long shadow of the other.
The Boxer was avant-garde, painting massive canvases by punching across them, his fists decked out with sponge-covered boxing gloves. A painting is punched out as the film opens. The artist is now 80 years old, and his blows become less vigorous as he nears the finish. At 80, he is chasing edges he discovered in his forties, or younger. He was something then. Part of a scene. Breaking new ground. Now he is repeating himself, still looking for that big break. Along the way, he’s learned seemingly little about love and personal relationships.
Cutie is an autobiographical cartoon character drawn by the Boxer’s wife. She supports him and has for decades. She has sacrificed her dreams but in her later life, she is beginning to see some recognition for her art. She is stepping out from the Boxer's shadow while he is getting jealous. As the film ends, she creates a bold and big installation, painting their fraught love story on the gallery walls through her characters, Cutie and Bullie.
Her best work may yet be ahead. She has not stopped growing. Like a flower pushing through concrete to reach the sun, her resilience inspires.
I am only 35 years old, yet even I can fall into the trap of looking backwards wistfully.
I’ve done some incredible things already. I’ve been blessed to stumble into remarkable stories. I’ve travelled far and met heroes and mentors. I’ve made beautiful things with beautiful people. There is plenty of love in my house. With all of this behind me, I am still asked to live in perpetual hope of resurrection. New life. Greater things.
The call is not toward bigger things, necessarily. Not even better, by some definitions. But deeper things. More meaningful things. Works that peel back the layers towards the core of my identity. God has planted seeds in my spirit, and some are just germinating now. Some are budding early like the trees down my street. "Onward and upward."
Last night, I’m watching Beauty is Embarrassing for the second time and it is as good as I remember. Wayne White, the subject of this artist documentary, is wacky and filled with an impossible hope.
“Everybody’s insecure,” White says, “But, there has to be this other kind of faith in yourself. I always take this big cosmic view. Man, you’re only gonna’ be alive, if you’re lucky, 80, 90 years, and then that’s it, that’s all you get. So why not? What does it f***in’ matter? I can do anything I want to do, you know? F***, man, get on it! Let’s go! The time’s runnin’ out!"
I hope you, as a creative person, know that growth is always possible. I pray a blessing upon you as I write, that your best days are ahead. I know it is a cliché but who cares. It is never too late.
“Get on it! Let’s go! The time’s runnin’ out!"
Are you spending your days looking backward or looking forward?
I pray that the dreams you’ve yet to dream are stirring.
Banner image from DeathToTheStockPhoto