Riding the line between perfectionism and shipped art

Next week, April 21st to be exact is the deadline for a songwriting competition that I’ll be entering. Once I had chosen the song I was going to enter, I had a problem. The recording I had already made was good, but it wasn’t great. The sounds weren’t clean, the percussion wasn’t tight, and while it conveyed the song, it just wasn’t quite there in a number of ways.

My wife mentioned to me, If this is the song, it’s worth making as awesome as possible. Probably not her exact words, she’ll forgive me if I paraphrase.

As an artist, I live in-between the worlds of being so entirely anal-retentive that I never finish everything, desiring every little detail to be right. But as Seth Godin says, “Real Artists Ship”

Part of being an artist is creating connection, putting yourself out there in a way that might not work. That vulnerability of not being perfect can make art even more beautiful.

But given how great this opportunity is, my wife in telling me to make it great was giving me permission to let my inner perfectionist out of the box a bit. After all, “almost good enough” isn’t really that great. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Or iceberg and ice cube, horse and horsefly, a house and House, M. D.

Or as anybody’s granddaddy would tell them, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Here’s the link to the finished song: http://youtu.be/1rECy4exWIM
It’s called, “Alabama Heat”

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Yo Yo Ma’s brilliant entry

My wife and I went to go see Yo Yo Ma (courtesy of my Uncle) this past weekend. When he walked on stage, he was not carrying his cello. At first we were concerned and slightly confused, but then, he explained.

“I will be your waiter this evening…”

He explained that he saw himself as a waiter, a servant, of the music and of his audience. Likening himself to a a waiter for a Top Chef, he described his role as not creating, but rather presenting a musical experience created by the most expert creators.

pile of homemade pasta, just rolled and cut
pile of homemade pasta, just rolled and cut by cafemama, on Flickr

Now before his show, I had already started thinking of myself (especially where music is concerned) in terms of being a home chef. I even had written the following journal entry

Homemade music

like a homemade pie,
delicious and fresh
lacking entirely straight,
drawn within the lines kind of perfection
floured countertops,
fresh cut fruits
happy accidents,
intentional brilliance
love you can taste.

No stickers to tear.
No boxes to open.
Ingredients you can pronounce.

Close your eyes.
Enjoy every morsel.

After Mr. Ma’s show, the thought finished connecting. While I do compose, I feel my music is a bit more earthy and homey than a lot of classical music.

I am a home cook. Let me bring you emotions and my messages in the freshest way possible. Yo Yo Ma’s entry helped me remember what I want to do with my music as well as set the stage for his own performance. What a great entry and a great night.

William Stonewall Monroe

Disconnected, no really.

Somedays I sit in front of the white blank precipice of creation and wonder what will come next, all the while creating the next. Having the next created for me. Unknowingly, rocks have disturbed the surface, undulating, disturbing the dark recesses that would stay quiet if left to their own devices, stirring the lethargic soul.

New Oscilloscope
New Oscilloscope by mightyohm, on Flickr

Detached is an illusion, a pride. Disconnected, a falsehood. Influenced is the always reality. It is not a question of will there be influences. It is a question of influenced by whom.

There is no true isolation. Tenuous connections like a spider’s web or connections carried out by fairies (sometimes called the internet). Forever connections solidified by wedding rings, by blood, by Golden Gate Bridge, 36 3/8″ steel cables.

I am a smith, hammering steel to bend to my will, a sculptor, chiseling away all that is not my art.

Yet.

I am a hammer, held in the hands of a greater smith, a chisel, held in the hands of a greater sculptor.

Yet.

I am metal, yielding to a shape I would not have sought. I am stone, moving into shapes that I would have fought.

William Stonewall Monroe

One question that will refocus your art

Big Beautiful Face Statue in Tenerife
Big Beautiful Face Statue in Tenerife by epSos.de, on Flickr

Confession: When I am creating art, whether that be code, reports, dinner, or music, I sometimes forget what I’m doing. I sometimes ask the wrong question.

Will my audience like it?

Will I get more accolades, more love, more views, and so on? The problem with this, is that if this is the big question I ask myself, I miss the point of my art. For art isn’t about performing so that someone else will give me affirmation. Art is about connections, realization,

creating order out of chaos

as Madeleine L’Engle would say.

So I must refocus.

What will make my art more beautiful?

A little vague? Maybe, but not more vague than the question I had been asking myself. This question of beauty reminds me that I am not primarily creating so that I can have Facebook likes. It redefines my art’s purpose as well as my success criteria. No longer do I have to beat last week’s stats in order to be successful. I need to do what God has called me to do and make something beautiful. I can again make art that matters.

William Stonewall Monroe

This week’s song is Christina Perri’s Thousand Years. My buddy Ryan joined in. Enjoy.

PS. come out to Mayfair Women’s Apparel for a street side show put on by myself and Ryan, 4:30–6:30 PM.

My question for you, how do you refocus your art to what matters?

Is it ok to like your own art?

Mount Cook/ Aoraki, New Zealand
Mount Cook/ Aoraki, New Zealand by EmmaJG, on Flickr

Is it ok to like your own art?
Short answer? Yes.

Great chefs taste their creations, enjoying and course correcting as they go along. The first palette they please is their own. Indeed, chefs tend to be at their best when making the food they enjoy the most, the food they love the most. Can you imagine your terror if you sat down at a restaurant and the chef came personally out to your table after your meal had been served and said, “I wouldn’t eat that if I were you.” Food is art, and chefs must enjoy their art to produce at their best.

I love my own music. I get my own songs stuck in my head as I am writing and recording and I see that as a sign I am creating something worthwhile. Any time I present you with art, I want to be able to say that it touches my soul in the yearning part of my soul that is impossible to describe, in the same way that our best loved artists touch our souls. After I’m done creating, I want to have a Genesis moment and say, “It is good.” If I am excited about my art, you can be as well.

It is a good thing to love your own creations, it is even a good thing to love yourself. But where do we cross the line between this healthy self-love and narcissism? Good question, and it is a hairy one. Your going to have to have some good friends to help you figure this one out. One guideline that I can offer is that love of your self or your creations becomes unhealthy when you it becomes about you being more awesome than other people. It is these comparisons that ultimately rob us of our joy and lead down the unhealthy roads.

One of my favorite thoughts on this subject comes from CS Lewis. In his book, The Great Divorce, he describes the attitude of songwriters in heaven. He writes that a man can enjoy his own songs as if someone else had written them, and enjoy other’s writing as if he had written it himself.

This week’s music is an original that I composed. I like to call it, “the fight song.” It is a great pump up jam that I thoroughly enjoyed producing. Yes, I like it :). I hope you will too.

On the 16 of August I will again be playing at Linn St Live from 4:30 to 6:30, put it on the calendar and I will see you there!

How does enjoying your own art make that art better?

William Stonewall Monroe