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On...Becoming an Artist

Updated: Jan 11

The world likes to put us into boxes. Based on this test and that your strengths are this and that therefor your career path shout be this or that assuming that a career path is what you want for the rest of your life. I am proof that the box is glass, and breaking it is very very easy.

I think first I was Neo. When I say 'I was', the truth is there is no pure form of either. The abbreviation of him, 'Len' and Neolen cannot exist without both of us. Regardless of who is dominant at any time, Neolen cannot be absolved of the circumstances nor the accountability for the actions of either or both.

To join the masses, most of whom upon learning the shortened form of me, reference The Matrix movies, I am in ways very much like Thomas Anderson and like that Neo I have my Agent Smith. Certainly not as malicious.

Len was enamoured by those films, not for the reasons I am today, but for the typical reasons a teenage boy in the late 90's and early 2000s may have been. The coolness of the action, the fight scenes, the explosions and the industry changing use of CGI. No doubt he wanted to know how the story ended, but that was the superficial story only. Not to be confused with pure aesthetics, 'superficial' in this case and throughout our tales will refer to that which constitutes the very top layer. The obvious stuff. The stuff they want you to see and be mesmerised by. We will later name the stuff that lies beneath. The deeper meaning below the surface. The stuff that Len did not feel, not matter how much he wanted to.

Len was, no, Len is the epitome of logical reasoning. I on the other hand, when he is not holding me down by the neck, am the believer in dreams, the one who brings feeling, brings emotions , believes my self-worth and makes life worth continuing. We cannot be entirely dualistic, remember, Neolen is some parts Len and some parts Neo, it is Neolen's composition that is dynamic. Like mass and energy that cannot be created nor destroyed, only the state in which they exist can change. A state of never ending semi-controllable flux.

It is Len, ironically, who still tells me I cannot be an artist. He says that I do not have good enough command of the english language. Perhaps enough to speak and understand, I do, but certainly not enough to write. But if one has the technical ability to understand the language, to write it and speak it, well reinforced by his grades in school that are so poorly a representation of ones value, what stops me? Only Len really. Only me really. Perhaps it is jealousy. That I had something that he only had glimpses of growing up, but just could not naturally grasp. Len says that I need to check my rules of grammar, rules of composition, rules of paragraphs, rules of punctuation. Rules, Rules. Rules! Proof read over and over until it is perfect. Perfect and lifeless.

You see, Len needed rules to benchmark his worth. He did not have the ability to believe that anything he did was truly 'good.' In every 'achievement' he found an albeit. Always a reason other than his own self worth. Other than his own value.

So despite having the intellectual ability, Len's rhetoric stopped me from writing and creating. Until now. Even in the past two years when I started to push back against his dominion, and I wrote and created, and I wrote a lot, but for the wrong reasons. Today I write for writings sake, and if what I write is a pile of garbage, contains incorrect use of technical rules and makes any teacher of English cringe, then I have done my job. It was those English teachers that convinced Len that he had no future in the arts. That is one of few things in his life that felt rather than simply thought up. Coupled with his inability to feel, truly feel, which is the basis of the enjoyment of all things right (brain dominant), he believed that he was who they told him was. And thus he believed he wanted to be. To protect himself from the weakness that he believed that the inside of him was. Besides, the society of the time applauded his type with riches of career and material. In turn, it seemed that was the reasonable way to go. Play to your 'strengths' even though your strengths are not truly yours. They are but a perpetuation of those that came before. You are blank canvas when you are born, and I believe that all which forms you in those initial years are the sensory inputs around you. You are shaped by the world you exist in, not the one you choose. We never chose to be here at at all. Alas we are, and society says that we should be grateful for this life that we did not ask for.

I think every great artist has this struggle to some degree. Those that are able to identify themselves as artists from the get-go are brave and sure of themselves, at least enough to believe in what they are. If not artists, people whose personalities lean more right. It is because of their inherent ability to feel without having to think about feeling that they can be this way. The world, well my world, glorified the left because it is difficult to fault objectivity. Living a life of reason is the reasonable thing to do if one is to follow the path of life, fit into society, provide for their family, have nice things or things at all, have the facade of security and leave behind enough that the next generation can perpetuate the mundane existence that they did not ask for in the first place, and are shunned for admitting that they wouldn't mind seeing come to a premature end.

The successful artists, and now be very aware of your definition of success for there are an infinite number of them, accept the rules as a guide, a paint by numbers, and like the paint by numbers we used as children, they leave it behind as they grow. Len could not. He clung to painting by numbers his whole life because painting by numbers meant the end product could not be 'wrong.' He is not wrong, nor is he right. It is this duality that breaks the world. Good artists realise that there is no wrong or right, only 'quality' to reference Robert M. Pirsig.

It was the same for his musical creations and later for our very first instances of photography. But, by the time photography had taken hold, I had been empowered to push back against Lens will. Photography is part of what set me free. It opened my eyes, all that I needed to do was feel, which I was slowly starting to do without having to think about what to feel, like Len did.

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