The Game Of Making Great Art

“I’m not competing with anybody…I want to make the best thing I can make. That’s all.  That’s all I can do. I want to make something. I want it to be the best it can be. To compete means I want it to be better than someone else’s. I don’t care about being better than someone else.  Ever. I want to just do my thing to the best of my ability. That’s it…I’m interested in great art.  That’s it.  And great art doesn’t compete with other great art.  It’s like, it’s either great or it’s not for you and it’s all good.” -Rick Rubin

Because it’s so freaking hard to do, when you strive to make great art, you’re not competing against anyone.  You’re only competing against yourself and the challenge of what it takes to make great art.

How refreshing in light of our dualistic/hyper-competitive/awards-obsessed/“how big is your boat?” culture, right?

Remember, you don’t have to play the game that everyone else is playing.  You have a choice.  You can play a different game. Play your own game. The game of making great art.

They Don’t kNOw

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” -Steve Jobs

“When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself.” -James Altucher, book The Power Of No

“If it’s not a ‘Hell Yes!’, then it’s a No.” -Derek Sivers

They don’t know your priorities.

They don’t know your values.

They don’t know your commitments and obligations.

They don’t know your health or financial situation.

They don’t know your hopes and dreams or your passion projects.

Nor should they. It’s not their job to know. It’s not their life.

But you know. (If not, you better.)

That way, when people who don’t know, ask you to do something, you have clarity. You can make the best possible decision for you and for them.

Just remember though, if you want to get anything big done, anything that’s excellent and lasting and worthwhile, you’re gonna have to say “No.” A lot.

Don’t worry about hurting people’s feelings. Just be clear and up front as to why you’re passing. And if you’re struggling with the decision because it’s something you’d really like to do and they’re someone you’d really like to work with, remind yourself and them that’s it’s not “No” forever. It’s just “No” for right now. If it’s meant to be, the project will come back around. Or something even better.

And if they can’t understand your “No”, then why would you want to work with them in the first place? Are they really a friend or valued colleague?

Five Minutes To Act

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it is actually big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.”  -James Clear, book Atomic Habits

“Sometimes life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.” -Stella Adler, book The Technique Of Acting

For the actor…

You can act every single day if you want to. Only got five minutes? That’s okay. You can…

-read a monologue out loud to yourself

-read a couple pages out loud from a scene; play all the parts (This is where having an anchor play really helps.)

-take a scene and start to break it down into beats

-take one beat and come up with some possible actions for that character

-do one of Uta Hagen’s amazing acting exercises

-do a sensory exercise (you in the desert; you in the freezing cold; you holding a hot cup of coffee; you walking with a bowl of soup that’s too full, etc.)

-observe someone

-observe yourself

-do a vocal warm up

-stretch your body

-stretch your mind…use your imagination, daydream, THINK BIG!

These are just some ideas off the top of my head. No doubt you can think of many others and better ones. The point is, no matter how busy the day, how much of a shit show it was, you can still find a little time to act. That way, right before your head hits the pillow, you can feel good that you acted today. You at least did that.

Ride The Wave

“Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place.” –Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu (Stephen Mitchell Translation)

“Acting technique is not about pre-shaping, pre-planning the how…If you supply the why, the how takes care of itself…When we are nervous, which is always, we tend to set ourselves into control…Giving up control is scary because you have to allow moment to moment, real impulse to occur…The goal of technique is spontaneous life.” -Howard Fine

“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

For the actor…

Don’t pre-shape. Don’t try to get “on top of” or control how you’re gonna play it.

Instead, ride the wave man. Let it take you where it takes you.

Yeah, it’s scary to not be in control. But it sure as shit is a lot more fun to play. And a lot more fun to watch.

P.S. – This scene.

Crazy In Love

Got me looking so crazy right now, your love’s
Got me looking so crazy right now (your love)
-song, “Crazy In Love” by Beyonce

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” -Steve Jobs

fanatic (n.): 1520s, “insane person,” from Latin fanaticus “mad, enthusiastic, inspired by a god,” also “furious, mad,” originally, “pertaining to a temple,” from fanum “temple, shrine, consecrated place,” related to festus “festive” (see feast (n.)). Meaning “zealous person, person affected by enthusiasm” is from 1640s. As an adjective, in English, 1530s, “furious;” meaning “characterized by excessive enthusiasm,” especially in religion (of Nonconformists), is from 1640s.

If you’re not crazy in love with the art you’re trying to make, then why are you trying to make it?

And if people think what you’re trying to do is crazy, then it might just mean you’re on the right track.

P.S. – “This is crazy. This crazy. This is crazy.”

Do-Do-Do

De-do-do-do, de-da-da-da
Is all I want to say to you
-song “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police

“Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction.” -Harry S. Truman

“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” -Amelia Earhart

Do.

Do.

Do.

Action.

Action.

Action.

The more you do, the more you do.

When in doubt, do.

Do.

Do.

Do.

De-Do-Do-Do.

Is all I want to say to you.

P.S. – Speaking of Harry S. Truman

“Now What?”

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ― Gandalf to Frodo in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” -Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search For Meaning”

“…things do happen. Terrible things. The only thing any of us get to do is decide whether they happen to us or if, at least in part, they happen for us.” -Meg Mason, novel Sorrow And Bliss

“I was once a fortunate man but at some point fortune abandoned me…True good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions and good actions.” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You can wish this event didn’t happen.

But the fact of the matter remains, it did happen.

The question is, “Now what?”

The power comes from knowing you get to decide. To decide what this event means and what you’re gonna do about it.

(Frodo didn’t want to leave the Shire either. But he did.)

Vulnerability Sucks

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” -Mike Tyson

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.” -Brene Brown

“Roger Ebert calls snarking ‘cultural vandalism.’ He’s right. Snark makes culture impossible, or rather, it makes the conditions that make culture possible impossible. Earnestness, honesty, vulnerability: These are the targets of snark. ‘Snark functions as a device to punish human spontaneity, eccentricity, nonconformity, and simple error. Everyone is being snarked into line,’ he wrote.”
— Ryan Holiday

“The most revolutionary act one can engage in is to tell the truth.” -Howard Zinn

Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
But mama, that’s where the fun is
-song “Blinded By The Light” by Bruce Springsteen

vulnerable (adj.): c. 1600, from Late Latin vulnerabilis “wounding,” from Latin vulnerare “to wound, hurt, injure, maim,” from vulnus (genitive vulneris) “wound,” perhaps related to vellere “pluck, to tear”

Vulnerability sucks.

It’s hard. It’s scary. It’s not instinctual.

But it’s necessary for great art. And for great relationships.

We want to hide.

But we need to expose.

We want to run.

But we need to stick.

We want to bluff.

But we need to tell the truth.

Like a boxer who drops their hands and opens themselves to get punched.

Why would anyone in their right mind do that?

Because that’s where the magic happens. The best art comes from the painful and the personal.

Vulnerability sucks.

But choose it anyway.

Magic Bus

Every day I get in the queue (Too much, Magic Bus)
To get on the bus that takes me to you (Too much, Magic Bus)
I’m so nervous, I just sit and smile (Too much, Magic Bus)
You house is only another mile (Too much, Magic Bus)
-“Magic Bus”, song by The Who

“Strong ideas. Loosely held.” -John Gruber

Ideas are like buses. Don’t worry if you miss one. Cuz another one’s coming by in 15 minutes.

The talent is knowing and deciding which bus to get on.

And having the discipline to stay on, to execute, all the way to the destination.

(And sometimes, you’ll need the awareness to know you got on the wrong one. That’s okay. Hit the bell. Get off here. And find the next magic bus.)

When’s The Last Time?

I wish everybody knew
What’s so great about you…

This is the last time
This is the last time
(The National, song “This Is The Last Time”)

“Deliberate practice requires working where challenges exceed skill.” -Angela Duckworth, book Grit

“When people are placed in positions slightly above what they expect, they are apt to excel.” -Richard Branson

“I can’t tell you the feeling I get when I plant a birch tree and I see it grow up and sprout leaves, I…I mean, I fill up with pride, I…But then again…It’s time for me to go. Maybe I’m just crazy. Good-bye.” -Astrov in Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov (Annie Baker adaptation)

When’s the last time you…

…had your mind blown; were gobsmacked by life’s beauty and stood in awe?

…changed your mind; changed your previously held convictions?

…dreamed big, really big, and then told someone your dream?

…learned a new skill?

…attempted to do something difficult; something that was slightly beyond your belief about your own capability?

…put yourself out there; took a risk, a real risk?

…desired something deeply and went after it with all your heart knowing that if you didn’t get it, you’d be heartbroken?

If it’s been a while or never, you’re in a rut. Time to explode out of it.

P.S. – This NYT article on the benefits of awe and wonder.