Yesterday I had one of those moments that brings you down low.
I’d been having a good day, actually. I’d been spring cleaning in the morning, purging and purging useless half-projects from my studio space. I was replacing the space and materials dedicated to old pastimes with cleared space for the “new.” I hauled along for the better part of three hours, just cleaning house, renewed by a clean slate.
Over the noon hour, I ran an important errand that I’d been putting off. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but making and keeping an appointment is pretty “grown up” for me.
Then in the afternoon I had a good run. It was windy yesterday, and cold. Whenever I run in crappy weather, I always feel mighty, like some post-apocalyptic warrior. Ah, runner’s legs! I’m always happy when my run is checked off for the day.
My day was going well, it was a good day.
And then I saw it. And what I saw dashed any happy confidence I had at that moment.
On Etsy’s Front Page, there is a curated collection of items picked from all around Etsy. Usually grouped by theme or scheme, the Front Page always offers some good looks for browsing.
And there it was. Among a pretty tame collection of knitted scarves and ceramic plates was a feathered headdress, fit for a warrior princess out of a Cooper novel. The headdress was bold and a little ostentatious. Brown plumes rising as a tall and jagged background, down to a crown of tan feathers, encircling a richly embroidered facade. Fringe finished the edge while pompoms and streamers give the piece a bit of gravity. And delight.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen for a long time. Somehow fantastical and other-worldly – a leap from the convention of time – but cutting-edge, and fashionable and wearable. I loved it. Simply: I loved it.
I followed the headdress back to its shop, and perused other feathered headdresses, and feathered fascinators. The shop, Hapuska, is run by Georgia Carola Robinson from the UK. Her shop is where the wild things are, and each headdress is a confection, a bold and trendsetting piece. As I looked closer at each piece, I saw familiar elements: bone beads and crystal fringe and millinery flowers. But she puts everything together with such imagination and vision, that each piece is a new thing, a one-of-a-kind creation. (With her kind permission I have included images from her shop. Thank you!)
I was brought low at that moment because I felt that feeling of nagging inferiority. All artists I know have felt it. It’s the feeling that claws at your confidence and shakes your artistic identity. For years we craft our selves and our work. Bolstered by success and evaluation, we gain confidence. Then, catch-22, our confidence rolls into new works, a more confident body of work, sometimes a newly crafted identity even. (Just look at Picasso. His early work is that of an art school prodigy, but with years of success and self-awareness his work eventually morphed into the avant-garde realms of cubism and surrealism. ‘Dude knew who he was!)
While so inspired by the beautiful headdress in Georgia’s shop, I was humbled by such great work.
In the movie Good Will Hunting we watch the young math prodigy Will Hunting as he battles himself to find placement for his genius. Plagued by insecurity, Will goes through life self-destructively, eternally putting off the pressure of expectation that realizing his potential will surely bring. To draw him out of this unhealthy cycle, a counselor pairs Will with an MIT professor as a math mentor. Professor Lambeau is decorated with medals, and established in the uppermost level of his field. But he is humbled to see that Will is more gifted than him: “It’s just a handful of people in the world who can tell the difference between you and me. But I’m one of them. ”
That’s the downside of keeping good company. While working alongside successful artists makes me a better artist (and nice friends make me nicer, and healthy people help keep me healthy), there are times when I measure up and fall short.
If I’m being honest with myself, this isn’t such a bad place to be. Yes, I faced inferiority, which sucks, let’s face it. But without other artists that inspire, what would pull me along? What would lure me into the next thing, the next level? Up ahead is a better-crafted look, a more honest body of work.
And I want to get there.