We’ve all heard the complaints from certain art critics and snobs. (If you can’t do the work yourself, you can always be a critic, right?) Now you think you need to know everything there is to know about what you’re doing before you let anyone experience it. You need to study forms, take classes, practice for years and years before you have the confidence or competence to share your passion, whether it is visual art, poetry, music, acting, or cooking. Remember Mom said, “Never prepare a dish the first time for guests.” I beg to differ.
Simply being human makes us all works in progress. We mustn’t let perfectionism push us back in the closet. Neither the outer critic or the inner one should be allowed to captain our ship or be the master or mistress of our Fate. Critics are a bully bunch and like to tell you when you’re ready and emphasize that you rarely, if ever, are good enough to share your work. Turn your head away from that rude bunch and listen to my voice telling you that the only way to get ready is to do it. Except for the few Emily Dickinsons of the world, (and even she slid a poem or two or ten underneath the door to a publisher once in awhile) we benefit from sharing our works as they are, as we are–in progress.
Sure, when your are finally working on the Great American Novel, you may want to conserve that energy for the next page. It may be time to keep that passion bottled up while you pour it into your book or onto the canvas. Meanwhile, before you have begun those long and sometimes lonely chapters, sharing what you are doing will only improve it. Hosting open mics for over 15 years has proven me right on this particular phenomenon.
This is how the magic works: even without critique; with only the polite but enthusiastic applause of a kind and considerate audience, a door within each of us that was only cracked before, begins to open. The light comes in. That tiny bud of confidence that forced our shaky hands to pick up the pen or pencil, or inspired us to hold the paper in front of our faces and read with stuttering voices in front of a mic for the first time, blooms when it’s attended by those who left their critic at home; those attendees who pat you on the back or hug you and say, “Look at you! Look at YOU! I didn’t know you could do that!”
This is collaboration of the highest and hardest order–to stand and deliver long before you feel ready. To bare your heart and art before others, to stand naked in the light of whatever self-esteem you may have, to hold out before the world (because it will seem that way) this bit of self you’ve worked on, loved, and worried over like a single mother–this my friends, is what courage looks like. I think this is the greatest collaboration, the one between you and your audience. Whatever your skill level may be, your desire, the pure passion you have for your art, will make you better than you think. This difficult 2 or 5 or 10 minutes of your life will do more to improve and expand the sense of your creative self and help you find your community of peers, than anything else I know. More collaboration will follow and you will get better and better at what you love to do.
So find a place, a group of friends, an open mic, an art show. Pick up your instrument and sing. Show and tell. This is how it begins.