Art, Scope, and Comparisons
Lately I’ve caught myself looking at other people’s photography and getting depressed. I look at their great, interesting photography, and I think to myself “Jeepers, Paul. Why are you bothering? Your photos are horrible, and theirs are great.” That’s not good, and it’s probably related to my recent dry spell, and from reading other blogs it seems I’m not alone in this particular misbehavior.
And, it would seem, it’s not anything new. Mr. Shakespeare used that exact train of thought when he wanted to describe someone in the deepest possible funk:
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least…
This man’s art, and that man’s scope, indeed. These are words with which I can wholeheartedly identify. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that this Shakespeare fellow had somewhat more than a clue about the human condition.
Anyway, it seems to me that this business of my comparing my work (or you comparing your work) to that of others is a sneaky trap, lying in wait to catch us at our weakest moments. It’s a trap because implicit in the comparison is the assumption that we’re making a decision to make our art instead of that other guy’s art. That’s not the way it works.
However much we might like to, we can’t make the art another person makes. We can only make the art we make. As I’ve said before, we can’t do otherwise. We don’t get to decide whether to make our own art or someone else’s; the only thing we get to decide is whether to make our art, or not make art at all. If your artistic abilities are limited and you’re looking at the work of someone whose abilities seem unlimited, this seems like a raw deal, because it is. However, it’s still the only game in town, and we’re better off playing the game than sitting down and just feeling bad. We just have to suck it up and take Teddy Roosevelt’s advice that we should “do what we can, with what we have, where we are.”