Like many people, I lived the first 22 years of my life working towards a single goal: graduating college. What I didn't realize was how sucky it would be if I succeeded.
From grade school onwards, they teach you that the best thing you can do is work hard to get good grades, because then you can move up in society. But what if you excelled without working hard? Will you still move up in society?
No. Hackles no. You'll probably end up with a degree of happiness equivalent to getting hit in the face with a dodgeball.
Grades are Great
I excelled in school. I got straight A's. I put a lot of effort into it because I wanted to get those A's. I wanted my teachers to tell me "Good job!" so I showed them I was talented, I was smart, I was conscientious (a word I only learned because my elementary teachers kept putting it on my report cards). In college, I worked even harder at making sure I understood the material. I'd remember it and regurgitate it, I could even teach it. I became an academic, and a good one. All for the sake of that proverbial high five (another teacher-taught phrase).
I expected to be able to apply the same principles I learned in school towards my post-grad career. Do what comes natural: remember the thing, do the thing, get the grade, feel confident, move on. As I've migrated into the work force, I imagined this would be how it would go. While some jobs may indeed work that way (holla if you a salesperson), it's not just an "A" or "F," it's a "now you can afford to eat" or a "now the food shelf is your best friend." However, my job is not like that.
No One Cares as Much as You
I create stuff for a living. Both in my day job as Creative Design Director at ACR Homes and as an actor. And, to my deep chagrin, people do not put hours of their time into grading my work.I do not have fellow actors or directors, coworkers or fellows saying:
"This deserves an +A! Here's a long-standing contract of employment and a super $$$ bonus as your reward. Also, here's all my love and a pet duck."
Instead, most say "I like that" or "I don't like that" or, most commonly, nothing at all. Post-college, you can't expect to receive all the same direct feedback you get in the education system. If you want feedback, you have to ask for it. And, unfortunately for myself, I've constructed a grading scale for when I make a video, design a poster, or monkey with a website that is based on what other people think.
When no one tells me anything, it feels as though I've failed. In my mind, the art I've created has no purpose unless it provides something of value to someone else.
But that is not how art works.
You cannot Grade Art
Art is not for academics. Art is refined expression. It is the internal reviewing of the soul followed by its technical and chiseled investigation. It has no grading scale or academic system, although it can be studied. It is a practice that requires one to let go of expectations, desire, meaning, and hope; to replace those things with a manifestation of identity. Other people may come alongside someone's created art and give it meaning, or the artist may step back later and dictate its purpose, but the one thing it does not have is a measuring scale.
We say we know what "good art" is, because we know who the greats are. Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Strauss, and countless others have created "good art" because it is valuable. And why is it valuable? Perhaps because it is pleasing to the eye or ear, or because of the emotion it arouses. Yet, is not the simple painting on my wall from my Ladyfriend made of the same basic substance as any other acrylic painting? While I may pay lots of money for it (because everything Ladyfriend creates is beautiful), others may not. Collectively, we've decided to label and categorize art in order to understand it. Then, we give it value based on its universality.
For example, do you relate to this blog post? Do you feel like your experience is just like mine? Do you not? Let's just assume that you do, and that EVERYONE does. If more people relate emotionally, more people will share and talk about it, more people will visit this web page, and more people, each bringing their own set of values, means more value in general. Thus, BOOM. My blog post, being so completely universal, is now utterly invaluable. Also I'm rich and famous and everyone loves me.
Or perhaps you disagree with me completely. And perhaps everyone does. Now, my blog post is worthless. Except to me, the creator, who values this post for its soothing expression of my anxiety. By writing this, I give it value. I grade it myself (-A), which is something I could never have done in school. That's something no one else can take away from me.
And that is why art is not for academics, it is for artists. What I really mean is this: your art cannot be graded as you create it. Your art, every step of the way, is self-expressive identity. It has refinable technique, discipline, and practice. If you want to make art, do it, review it, re-do it. My hope is that you and I both can learn to follow that process without adding a step for judgement, shame, condemnation, guilt, or fear.
Be glad and confident.