True patronage to a path chosen
Perhaps heavy steps from the onset
Time brings the realization that the most ginger steps bring fantastic result
At one point or another, you have heard that “to imitate is the highest form of flattery” – but what does it mean? Well we know that imitation is a human behavior and it is part of the learning process that sometimes occurs unconsciously. Alternately, imitation could be a goal that is pursued with the mind to achieve what is perceived as something desirable.
Some imitate famous musicians, dancers, athletes, healers, architects, teachers, business people and/or co-workers when their behavior or art is viewed as masterful, pleasing to the senses or ”successful”. Some effective behavior is achieved with “god given talent” or “raw talent” but consistency comes from the experience of a journeyman which requires study and practice in any given field or art form. Raw talent without practice or structure is beautiful to behold but just like a wisp of cloud that is so mysterious and divine – it lacks structure and staying power because it has neither.
Our first form of imitation usually comes from a passionate response. I remember Michael Jordan’s hey-day in the 1990s; he was the most valuable player for our Chicago Bulls and led them to NBA championship victory with the help of a very talented team to the tune of six times in one decade. Many people on a local gym or school yard basketball court would emulate this player with good reason – he had talent, he was passionate, successful and charismatic which brought a whole following of players that responded by mimicking his methods. Countless times I heard the phrase: “JORDAN” as someone was taking it to the hole going for a lay-up or dunk and even emulating his facial expressions! It even seemed that this behavior insured a more successful outcome, a possibility of scoring and admiration. If you emulated a star player for his for his passion for the game, style and strengths then you could be better, sharper and achieve star player results.
Another passionate behavior is one that comes from your heart and soul. It is raw and emotionally driven; the Andalusian Spaniards have a special name for it. Duende. Duende comes up from a place that no one can teach you in a day, a few weeks or even years of practice. It’s almost a primal instinct, and usually, coming from an extremely painful or, oppositely, joyful place. It’s not always pretty or structured but people notice and are captivated when a performer is charged with it because it is pure and raw energy. We love it because it is beautiful to behold, contemplative, haunting and the most genuine form of art and expression.
We, who have been touched by this bug and give into it, want to feel it too. We long for it, imitate it, work at it in hopes that we too can exude such a power or passionate display of our own. Maybe we do it out of love of the art maybe we do it for the pursuit of attention or appreciation from others (which is a whole other matter that will not be discussed here today) but as humans we will always find activities that we put our energy into that can become artful in their execution. We all have different ways of going about it. Some people’s personality’s dictate that they immerse themselves and dive right in to something that they love and start doing it in one form or another right away without a care in the world of how it looks or how it’s perceived by others. It is a joyful pursuit and it is done without fear from the onset because it is a source of stimulation and perhaps obsession. The other personality type will study the form, dissect it thoroughly, analyze its format and proceed slowly until comfortable with its structure before advancing. In either case, both arch-types are obsessive with details of its content, stimulated emotionaly and/or intellectually – from one extreme behavior spectrum to the other. Surely there are those that fall in between the outer edges of the extremities and give each behavior its separate merit when the time comes.
Those who appreciate a healthy balance share both elements but are closer to the middle of the extremes. There are specific names for each personality type mentioned that I will not go into either because it is not my intention to label one or the other or advocate one to be better than the other. However knowing your starting point serves as a tool for understanding one’s mindset and goals making for an easier journey to higher learning into any subject matter.
Learning a new process can involve adding new behavior to assimilate a methodology but can also involve some cutting corners. Cutting corners to expedite a process should come as no surprise. People do it all the time to save time, money and energy. Some processes can benefit from streamlining by skipping or shortening some parts of a long process. Production and efficiency can be raised and losses can be prevented. However there comes a time when cutting a corner can come at the cost of poor quality of the end product. An artist that’s new to a field may decide consciously at the onset that they want to do something right away without training or train as they proceed, whether they be the systematic & structure based learner or the intuitive & feeling based learner, cutting corners is always a possibility whether intentional or not. Working within a structure takes practice and depending on the complexity of the form, may take years to master. Once the technique is engrained in muscle memory it takes on polish but even the most polished performer steps outside of the format especially when the energy is coming from somewhere deep within.
When observing someone who performs an art-form with Passion and Duende we are left with a sense of presence, quality and genuine expression that is rare and difficult to quantify. This quality is inspiring and exposure to it can be the reason that someone’s interest is piqued and bring about a desire to start a similar hobby, vocation or art-form. Now we are back to two aforementioned behavior arch-types, one trying with all their heart, enjoying the expression before completely understanding its structure, learning techniques as they go, brash and lacking form and polish but doing it with fervor. The other, dogmatic in the pursuit of proper technique, pouring their heart into the structure of the form with a need for understanding of each technique completely and striving for perfection before proceeding to the next point. Each will arrive at their intended destination but on different paths. Neither one more correct that the other.
It is possible for another layman to observe the novice’s performance that lacks proper technique and form and think that they also can enjoy performing something that’s made to look so easy. Consequently, the likelihood that a following or influx of “copycat” artists will surface thinking that they can reproduce a similar performance by mimicking the same steps with unpolished execution. Some will succeed and pursue passionately to perfection yet others will not continue upon reaching a low-level of unsatisfying performance and choose to go no further because true understanding and possible mastership would require hard work and not everyone is committed to reaching that status.
All of us may not have a goal in mind when embarking on this quest for understanding. Some decide it is more the pursuit of a feeling while others decide that they will learn and be proficient enough to express themselves within a format. Either can decide at some point that they wish to pursue excellence of the form. They practice, challenge themselves, toil, suffer (physically and emotionally), spend time and money and hopefully feel encouraged by their progress.
I went to an acting coach in Miami when I was living in Florida and studying liberal arts in the 90s that said to the class, “All of you may want to be famous actors or artists in one form or another… But what you don’t know is this is a futile pursuit” she said, “Know that all of you in this room may never be famous or successful in this field and that you should admit you are crazy for thinking it!” Jaws dropped all over the room, classmates rolled their eyes. I think I chuckled a little bit and it broke the tension and everyone was in an uproar! When the room calmed down, she continued. “There are a million other actors out there, some of them with talent and some of them with less talent than you – that will get noticed and you won’t.” She looked around the studio to silent stares, disbelief and downcast eyes.
Summarizing her monologue, she stated, “Brace your selves for disappointment, we prepare for success but this is a difficult business and you are crazy to think that it will happen for you. It’s easier to proceed under the premises that we are crazy because it makes it a little easier” Best advice. Puts things in perspective, no? You can do what you love, make a living at it, maybe acquire some fleeting fulfillment by it and even gain the appreciation of others but you can’t always expect it to be profitable. Enough said.
The decision to pursue excellence in your art form may be a lofty one and whatever your motivation may be, everything can be a summit when you have goals to shoot for. Studying the techniques, format and structure bringing you along from apprentice to journeyman status – but who is the judge, you? Those that master the field? Those with more experience? Your peers? Laymen? It is a fact that anyone who undertakes a path of higher learning will surely be criticized on their performances by any and all the aforementioned parties. Criticism is a sure thing. So much so that it should follow “Death & Taxes” as sure things go. Criticism can be a tool to gauge the next plateau, to understand where a path may lead and be a type of check and balance to determine ones progress. Do not fear it, embrace it and let your budding art pour out of you and filter through you.
Beware of fear, the great paralyzer. Fear will keep you from your dreams, put the brakes on your forward progress and even stop you before you start!
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There is nothing worse than a lack of expression for fear of criticism. Express yourself as the inspiration fills you, knowing and trusting that the quest for advanced understanding will transport you to expressions that will be more beautiful and artful in execution as time goes on. You are only being honest with yourself and you will thank yourself later.