I hate math. I really do. It was the only school subject I couldn’t bullshit with my creativity. Math is either right, or it’s wrong. There’s no malleable, exploratory, excitingly experimental gray area to math. Best-case scenario, every single person in the classroom arrives at twelve. But where’s the communicative, emotional, meaningful learning experience in that? Where do I reconsider, try things out and make mistakes about myself? In high school, I once drew a picture of a kid with his head on his desk, holding a test with a big fat “F” on it as the answer to a one question Calculus test. My teacher gave me a C- for it. Just to be clear here: I was given a passing grade for submitting a drawing as the answer to a math test. (So I take back what I said before; I could bullshit any school subject.) But I’m telling you this because I stared at that one question Calculus test for so long that I didn’t even know what to do with myself. Do I just turn in a blank test? It just had the math problem, and “Show your work” at the end of it above a giant white canvas. There was no place to hide; I would have to reveal how I got to my final answer… when I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
Showing your work isn’t easy. Putting yourself out there isn’t easy. It’s not easy to be under a microscope. To be judged by how you arrive at your conclusions. I’ll be the second to admit that I’m pretty insecure, and I’m not exactly overflowing with optimism… so having an art show is a nerve-racking experience to say the least.
I had my first art show last night (as a part of the Venice Art Crawl) and the feeling I was having the entire time can only be described as a bittersweet adrenaline rush. Sure I was happy my work was on the wall, out in the world, being seen with a fresh set of eyes. I was also infinitely appreciative that the company I work for would do something like this for me. But it felt like the end of a chapter in a way. As I stood there inebriating the anxiety away, I remembered when and where I was when I did each of the pieces on the wall. In the book of my life, they are some of the pages of the quarter-life crisis chapter I think; a sudden rush of energy that needed to be time-capsuled somewhere.
As an amateur artist, I’m showing my work. Like a math problem. When you have an art show, people want to know how you got to where you are in a way. Showing your work is like painting. There’s a painting, the noun version, the product, but there’s also painting, the verb version, the process. And the verb version is way more interesting. People aren’t concerned with product, they’re concerned with process. During the show, I was asked “How did you do this?” but really I heard “How did you arrive at this?” and then I heard “What did you learn?”
I learned that in order for something to happen in your life, you need to allow yourself to be seen. You need to speak up to be heard. People might criticize you. People might reject you. But you have to do it. You have to take that risk. You won’t get what you want if you’re too afraid to say what you want. Like a baby bird leaving the nest, you have to put yourself out into the world. Sure you might die, but shit, you might live too.
I would consider myself an amateur artist now at this point. I’ve had a show, I've sold stuff at that show, that makes me an “artist” right? Eyeroll. Anyway, the word “amateur” comes from a French word meaning: "lover of.” And the textbook definition of an amateur is “an enthusiast who pursues his or her work in the spirit of love regardless of the potential of fame, money, or career because they have little to lose.” Amateurs aren’t afraid to look stupid, they’re in love and people in love aren’t afraid to look stupid. Amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, they experiment, they take risks, they follow their whims. Sometimes in the process of doing things in an unprofessional, amateur way, they make mistakes but they also make discoveries.
I hate math because I have to show my work for it. I have to leave this chicken-scratched record of all the things I’ve reconsidered, all the things I tried out, and all the mistakes I made and then I ultimately could end up with the wrong answer. When I was in middle school, one of my teachers called my mom at home one night to tell her I never showed my work on my math exams the way I was supposed to. “Are you suspecting him of cheating?” my mother asked. "Not necessarily, his answers are all correct,” my teacher responded, “but when I ask him to show his work, he isn’t doing it the way I’m trying to teach in my lessons.” “Well if he arrives at the correct answer,” my mother said, “does it really matter how he got there?” ∎
“Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there's the superhero and there's the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he's Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward.” – Bill, KILL BILL: VOL. 2