Relax dear reader, I’m back again to protect you from the hooded claw and keep the vampires from your door. Take a seat on the naughty step with me and I’ll tell you another tale…
This months column is the product of a few of conversations, a couple of bottles of cheap red and a few hours of youtube. It probably wont be concise (when am I ever?) but it’ll hopefully make sense. I’m going to attempt to connect the dots between you, me, Bob Ross, a few tattooists, a famous guitarist and the making of the Rocky movies. And the point? Well, er, oh screw it! I’m just going to start typing and we’ll see where we end up.
[blockquote]Impostor syndrome (also spelled imposter syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women, while others indicate that men and women are equally affected.[/blockquote]
Most of the artists, musicians and creatives that I know suffer from Imposter Syndrome to some level and post convention bar talk often includes artists dismissing their own (often recently award winning) work as ‘lucky escapes’ or ‘happy accidents’ because they have used an artistic vehicle to get themselves out of the tricky aspects of the piece. I’ve experienced artists explaining ‘their style’ (as described by others) as nothing more than luck born out of an inability to tattoo certain things/animals/aspects/techniques etc. So well known are some of these guys and girls that I can’t use any examples because it would be way to obvious who I was talking about. I’ve only got a few friends and I intend to keep them thanks!
During many of these conversations I would – to make a point about creativity and creative people – recount an interview with a very famous guitarist that I’d seen online. As that’s – kind of – where this train of thought started – I tried (unsuccessfully) to find it for reference in this piece but, having drawn a blank, I decided to move on and watch some of my favourite documentaries – namely those behind the scenes, making of type things – I’ll tell you about that shortly but first here’s the interview as I recall it. Again no names because I can’t ‘fact check’ it – it’s a legal thing apparently.
The aforementioned (amazingly talented) guitarist was asked – given that he is largely regarded as one of the best in the world – if he had any deficiencies in his technique or found certain styles hard to play. He answered “yes of course I do”. The interviewer then proceeded to ask him if he practiced these techniques/styles more in order to improve them. His answer took me by surprise but – after a bit of thinking about it – it made perfect sense. He answered simply “No, I just don’t play them at all and stick to the stuff that I’m good at and let the guitarists who are good at the other stuff have it”
Now, firstly there isn’t even a hint of imposter syndrome here, he is obviously very comfortable with who is is and what he does and also makes a great point. You see he’s running his own race and by concentrating on only the things that make him, him, he has carved out a career as an individual and unique artist. He doesn’t need to learn fingerpicking or the blues because he has developed a style and sound all of his own by focusing on – and perfecting – the things he does well and believe me, he does them very, very well. His work is instantly recognisable and totally unique.
And that lead me to thinking that maybe all artists should concentrate on running their own races and forget about running along with everyone else. And, in the increasingly crowded world that is tattooing – a world that seems to spit out yet another amazing newcomer almost daily – maybe individuality is the only thing that will separate us soon. When the world and his wife can knock out a black and grey portrait, maybe we should all be focusing on the things we’re really good at and making those things our ‘thing’?
From a personal point of view I think the reason I’ve never suffered from imposter syndrome is because, early on, I was given a great piece of advice about making art – of any kind – which was: ’start today, use what you have, do what you can’. With this ringing in my ears I set about making graphic art the only way I knew how – which at the time was with a Pritt stick, a photocopier and some Letraset rub down letters. Since then I’ve never attempted to be anything else other than the artist/designer that I am and instead I’ve concentrated on finding like-minded clients rather than attempting to please everyone in the world. I’m simply a tattooist by definition, graphic designer by trade and musician by the grace of (Yeah) God!
I’m with you so far but what about the Rocky movies? I hear you say, well…
So, it’s about this point in tale that I’m starting to connect the dots into some sort of coherent idea. I wasn’t quite there yet but I’m starting to get that feeling that I’m on to something. Time for a break and time to open that second bottle of liquid Italian inspiration. YouTube has this habit of autoplaying so when I returned the ‘making of Rocky’ was playing. Now, maybe it was the wine or maybe I just dropped lucky but the story of the making of the movie – kind of – makes my point in another creative field. You see, they didn’t have enough money (not even half) to make the movie the way they initially wanted so, they had to change a bunch of things to accommodate the budget. Firstly the location, which was supposed to be New York had to be switched to Philadelphia because – without the union – they could pay people less than ‘scale’ and many of the iconic scenes are shot the way they are due to either lack of finances or forced location. The ice skating scene is shot in an empty rink because they couldn’t afford the extras and for many of the action shots, because they couldn’t afford all the tracks etc for the dolly, they had to use an invention of the head cameraman which turned out to be an early version of the (now industry standard) steady cam rig. Because of this they ended with shots that would have been impossible to film using the traditional dolly method – giving Rocky a cinematic look all of it’s own.
And the connection? Well, can you imagine Rocky without the ‘rocky steps’ or the training montage? But both of these things were born out of necessity and weren’t in the original screenplay. Sylvester Stallone (yes, he wrote it) could have held out and waited for everything to be perfect so that he could make his movie in exactly the same way as every other movie but he and the director rolled with it (start now) and changed what had to changed (use what you have) and thought their way out of the many problems (do what you can) and Rocky is a better – not worse – movie for it. It went on to win 3 oscars and change the way sports movies were filmed. So running your own race and making what you love would (at least to me) appear to be the most rewarding way to create art. So they next time you find yourself second guessing yourself remember; you’re not an imposter you’re an individual, and artist. Do the stuff you love and spend your time finding an audiance for it .
But what about Bob?
Well that’s easy I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from the guy who taught me more about painting than anyone else ever did…
“The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe.”
“We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”
until next time