on "becoming": embracing a state of constant growth
As an artist or creative person, when have you finally "arrived"? What is the moment that you pop the champagne bottle and proclaim that you've officially made it?
I believe the answer is never.
Being an artist isn't like being a police officer; you can't train for and get accepted to an academy, meet all the requirements, and then one day start the job. Rather, you wake up every day and you're not an artist, and every day you have to choose to practice your art, and become one. This is the concept of becoming: a consistent, holy-vow level commitment to growth, exploration, and practice that you make every single day. Every day as an artist you must get up and chuck out everything you have done before. When writers give the advice to write 1000 words every day or write for an hour every morning I think what they are truly getting at is the concept of becoming. It's not necessary to write every day, but it's necessary to practice your art every day. Some days that means reading, or having experiences you could write about, or practicing what my husband calls "art outside of art," (meaning the supplementary or other art forms you do to stay inspired and learn); some days you need a vacation, but every day must be intentional and part of your process. It's necessary to live in a state of becoming.
I didn't invent the term; on the contrary, I learned it by years of reading about the writing process from other authors and artists. The first time I saw the word was reading the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche's idea of becoming is closely tied to his idea of "the will to power," which, to be honest, is a philosophy class in and of itself. But I'll do the best I can. Nietzsche argues that all life has a primordial desire for improvement, or a "will to power," where power is the full strength of a person at his or her highest capacity (which he also believed could never be reached, or else had no threshold). Nietzsche believes that the true self creates itself incessantly; that to be the best kind of human one must be forever growing, forever striving, and adapting to changes in environment and circumstance. He says in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
"But of time and of becoming shall the best similes speak: a praise shall they be, and a justification of all perishableness! Creating- that is the great salvation from suffering, and life's alleviation. But for the creator to appear, suffering itself is needed, and much transformation. Yea, much bitter dying must there be in your life, ye creators! Thus are ye advocates and justifiers of all perishableness."
"You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?"
Nietzsche encourages creators to destroy themselves over and over and maintain a state of growth and new beginnings. For creators, maintenance or a steady state of existence is limiting and makes for poor art.
Bob Dylan, interestingly, talks about being an artist in the same way, and even uses the same word: "An artist has to be careful never to really arrive at a place where he thinks he’s at somewhere. You always have to realize that you’re constantly in a state of becoming, and as long as you’re in that realm, you’ll sort of be all right." --from No Direction Home.
It shows up in Kurt Vonnegut's letter to Xavier High School (which can be found in its entirety here):
"What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art...no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."
Even when artists don't use that exact word, they express the same sentiment. Elizabeth Gilbert, in a section of her website titled Thoughts on Writing, which is worth reading in its entirety, says, "Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work."
She also talks about the idea of self-forgiveness, or the idea that your writing will always fail you and you must start again. There's a famous Samuel Beckett quote with the same sentiment: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
All of these artists are telling us, I think, the same thing: what the artist is in pursuit of is unattainable, but the pursuit is what's worthwhile. You will never write a perfect novel, or paint a perfect painting, or write a perfect song, and if you have a success, attempts to replicate it will probably fail. What you will do is create art that is meaningful and live a meaningful life in the process of creating it. Success is not the purpose; the art itself is the purpose.
I will leave you with a poem on the same subject by one more famous artist, Marge Piercy, called "For the young who want to."
Have you stumbled across the concept of becoming in your travels? How can you implement this concept when it comes to your art?
When I'm really stuck, or feeling insecure about my work, I take Kurt Vonnegut's advice quite literally: I write a poem on my typewriter and then I light it on fire in the sink.
Your assignment: write a poem or a piece of flash fiction, do a drawing, or write some lyrics (whatever your art is, do a short small version of it). Make your work as good as you can. Then, light it on fire or tear it up into tiny little pieces and put it in multiple trash cans or put it down the garbage disposal, run the water, and turn that f*cker on.