The Magic of Objectivity
Fantasy vs. reality. Always battling for real estate in my head. It’s a classic duel. Formidable opponents locked in an eternal dogfight.
Have you ever gone on vacation, and when it was time to come home, you thought, “Ugh…back to reality?”
Or thought about finding that perfect mate and living in eternal romantic deliciousness? And then you come home the next day to her bra soaking in the sink, or his dirty socks by the bed?
Sometimes the gap between my hopes and expectations, and reality can be light years apart.
Usually at first glance, I get disappointed. Reality feels like a let down. I obsess over the fantasy and roll my eyes at the reality. Turn on the lights at 2am in any bar, and things can look quite different. All of a sudden there’s gum stuck to the wall and duct tape on that vibey booth I was just sitting in. Eek!
When I first imagined becoming a visual artist, I pictured myself wandering the aisles of the art store, looking for just the right brush. Taking afternoon naps and long walks to contemplate life. I thought about watching how a tree moves in the wind, zeroing in on life’s magic. Trying to isolate it, and recreate it somehow in the physical world.
I do still see that as part of my job, but the reality is, I spend more time at Home Depot than I do the art store. I’m buried in more power tools and sawdust than pencil shavings. I scramble to meet deadlines. I create sometimes under quite a bit of pressure. Granted, most of that is due to my ambition as an artist and I’m not shy about that. I’m not a hobbyist. I knew that the first time I plugged in a bass guitar with my first band. Creativity is not a casual encounter for me. Never has been.
The point is, as much as I love what I do, it’s not what I imagined.
When I was a kid, I thought being an “artist” meant I needed to have one intense experience after the next to pierce the veil of life and see the secret world (yes, there is a secret world). And I chased that through my music career, into my art career for many years. Big moments can change your life in an instant.
If you saw my TEDx talk, you know I shared my experience about walking up the stairs the first time at Saint Michel station in Paris.
And standing in front of “The Express” by Robert Rauschenberg the first time in Madrid.
I bet you’ve had a few moments of your own along the way. And I bet you don’t have to think too hard to remember them. They tend to stand out. Not always in a good way. Sometimes the highs are so high, the inevitable fall is excruciating.
Is the fall inevitable? Yes.
If you’re saying right now that you disagree and life can be all ecstasy and awesomeness, then good for you. But I would pose the possibility that you’re simply delusional. I’m not saying everybody’s life sucks. I’m saying I’ve never met anyone, rich or poor, alone or in love, who lived in a 24 hour a day orgasmic ecstatic state and who didn’t have challenges. We can’t swing from spike to spike like monkeys in trees for any period of time. Eventually the ground will find you.
Why can’t my life be one long Lifegasm?
- Well, quite frankly, it would be exhausting. And…
- We’re actually hardwired NOT to have that experience. Our psyche is constantly assessing, measuring, adjusting and recalibrating itself.
Any sustained heightened experience becomes my new reality. My expectations adjust to accept that as the new norm, and the ecstatic spikes diminish. We’re literally hard wired for normal “reality.” We all have our baseline. And that can rise or fall depending on how we feel the majority of the time. So even if your baseline is relatively pleasant, and you feel generally satisfied, you are physiologically programmed to return to your baseline. We all are.
The Fantasy Problem
Don’t get me wrong. Fantasy has its place. It can be inspiring. Idyllic futures planned out in my mind can serve as a beacon in the fog calling me toward the shore. It’s fun. It’s creative. Who doesn’t like to dream?
Much like my little artist fantasy. The problem is, that once you get there, you may look around and think, “Hmmm…not what I expected.” With every problem solved, there are new problems waiting in the wings.
Fantasy can also interfere in relationships. I can fantasize about what you were thinking when you snapped at me. Which could keep me from actually asking you.
I can make up reasons for my failures instead of investigating.
I can stare out the window and imagine a better life instead of getting off my butt to make one.
We also have a tendency to use fantasy to fill in glaring gaps of knowledge. For thousands of years, we thought the world was flat. Even after multiple Greek scientists and philosophers had said otherwise, people still made up stories with religious and philosophical context about how demons and monsters would eat and torture us at the end of the world if we floated a boat off the edge. Then one day Columbus sailed west and those people started to say, “Oh ok…maybe there are no monsters at the end of the world.”
The Reality Problem
Let’s get real.
Bummer, right? Buzzkill.
Somewhere along the line I got this idea that “reality” was a purely logical left brain, boring existence. It’s a letdown. Devoid of magic. I thought all the excitement in life came from fantasy dreamland. And that was a key ingredient in making art.
As it turned out, I was wrong.
In order to see things as they truly are (aka “reality”), I need to see more objectively. And I’m finding that objectivity is where the real secret world is. When someone turns on the lights in the club, stark reality can be sobering. Once I get over the sting however, I can see what’s actually going on. Where did those people come from in the corner? What’s that door? There’s a back room here? I didn’t see that. New worlds are revealed. This is the secret I wasn’t told about.
Reality is a full frontal, both side brain experience.
The trick is to stay sensitive enough…to pay close attention. It’s like zooming in super close to a flower. A whole other universe is revealed. I can stand back and just say…”yeah, nice flowers.” Or I can zoom in and take a better look. Did you ever see Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who?
I still love ecstatic moments that light up my soul and spark my imagination. I want as many as I can find, as often as I can find them. They are the breadcrumbs I follow that let me know I’m on the right path, and send me the best direction forward. But today I’m also challenging myself to embrace the mundane. My little Humdrumtopia. Because I see both as necessary. It’s like Yin and Yang. The magic and the banal have to coexist. We need reference. We need time to work things out and allow them to soak in. I have to understand myself and my life from my own emotional and intuitive place.
I’m really embracing this balance and interplay in my work right now. Sometimes it’s a grind. Most days are. And then, there are those moments. When everything in the world is totally transformed. Even for a second.
So I’m not sure I’d trade my Home Depot runs for more trips to the art store. I like the art I make. I like most of the choices I’ve made. Sure, I keep aiming higher, but where I am isn’t bad either.
I don’t see my life as romantically as I did when I was younger. I used to feel sad about that loss. I thought my art would suffer. After all, I’m an artist. If I can’t see the magic in life, how can I share it?
The thing is, there will always be plenty of magic in life. Plenty of mystery. Our most advanced technologies today only scratch the surface of what is truly going on. S o any scrap of objectivity I can find, I’ll take. It makes for a deeper understand of myself and the truth. And art is ultimately about truth. And truth comes from objectivity. It creates an increasingly more accurate context to live in.
And that makes for better art.
By shattering one world, another is revealed.
All photographs ©Rob Grad