Ask your work what it needs

“Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.”

I am re-reading Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.

I had to stop and read these two sentences over and over again. They were hitting me, and I had to figure out why.

Ask your work what it needs, not what you need.

What does my work need? And what is it that I need, that stands in the way for my work? I’m with my work only for short moments of time. What does it need from me?

My work needs my full attention. A heart felt focus, without a clutter of thoughts around other matters. It does NOT need my bad conscience about the to-do-list in my head. Who invented bad conscience anyway, what is it for?

My work needs a clear and joyful “yes!”, not a hesitating “yes, but…”.

Then set aside your fears…

Fears. Who lives without them? I don’t. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failing. Fear of being laughed at, or of not belonging.

… and listen…

You can not listen while your head is full of your own thoughts, you have to silence yourself for a moment. You wouldn’t go to a concert and keep talking all the time, would you?

So how can I listen better to my work? Not think during the concert “I know this song already”, but silently sing along, adjusting my voice as the tune goes. Perhaps I heard this song before, but every performance is still a new one, different.

– So you are saying I should cut this part here? I say to my work, saw in my hand.
– Yes, I do. Definitely.
– That’s not what I had in mind, I continue and firmly lay down the saw on my workbench.
– I know, but look at this thin part, do you see?
– ???
– There! Turn me around, turn me upside down, yes… And now on the side – do you see it?
– Now that you say it… perhaps… hm… OK, I’ll give it a go… (I pick up the saw again).
– Thanks.
– But hey (bang! saw back on the workbench), then it won’t become those earrings anymore!
(silence between us)
– And who said anything about earrings?
– I did!
I say. As firmly as I can.
– Trust me, listen, it’s going to be a great pendant.

… the way a good parent listens to a child.

This is the part that really hit me. And hard. I am a mother, and I’ll throw a bit of that fear in here again, as I wonder: am I a good enough parent? Do I listen carefully enough to follow what THIS story is about? Do I sing along in a way that supports her song?

ask_listen_1ask_listen_4ask_listen_2M

So to go back to what my work needs, on a very, very practical level: Some kind of on/off button for the endless to-do-lists in my head. Install, please! Then uninstall the bad conscience, we don’t need it. And scan my harddisk for any fear, because that is a virus.

“Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.”

Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland – it’s a great read, I do recommend it!

What is it that your work needs from you? And what do you do to give it just that?

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