Art & Fear: 6

The fear that you’re only pretending to do art is the (readily predictable) consequence of doubting your own artistic credentials. [p. 24]

Impostor syndrome, anyone?

Longtime readers of this blog will recall my incessant whining about my lack of formal training in music, despite the fact that I can create works like William Blake’s Inn or Pieces for Bassoon & String Quartet or “Sir Christémas.” I don’t do that whining any more, even though I know I am entirely outclassed in the music theory department by every “real” musician I know. Why worry about it? I’ve decided that if I’m ever sitting in on a rehearsal of one of my works, and the conductor turns to ask, “Did you really mean to write a G minor 13th chord here?”, I will cheerfully and honestly reply, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It sounds like I want it to sound, though.” Or perhaps, like Anton Bruckner, just happily agree to let him “fix” it.

As the authors of Art & Fear go on to say, “After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.” If I’m able to get it out the door, why should I care that I don’t have the training that any music undergrad (or garage band songwriter, for that matter) has? He didn’t write the piece, I did. My only gripe about my lack of training is that I would be a lot faster at what I do if I had that knowledge, but even that, I’ve decided, is irrelevant.

In recent discussions with my friend/guru Craig, the idea of Asking Permission has surfaced repeatedly. He keeps asking what I mean by that, and I have to confess I’m not really sure why this keeps nagging at me. As Craig asks, “Asking Permission of whom? And for what?”

I think it may be related to this concept of Pretending, the idea that I’m not really supposed to be doing any of the things I do. As a “composer,” I used to feel very strongly that people who had made music the focus of their lives were at best tolerating my presence in their temple, and at worst sniffing, “Who let him in?” I’m all better now, thank you, but clearly that sense of needing permission to be there is still rattling around in there somewhere.

This is enormously ironic, because my role in the arts community in Newnan has always been that of the Permission Giver. I was the one who gave everyone else Permission to try anything they wanted, either in explicit terms (“Or course you can direct Godot, Jeff. Why not?”) or implicitly: as Jen, the Equity actress who played Hermione in Winter’s Tale said to me at the cast party, surveying all those happy amateurs, “They don’t know they’re not supposed to be able to do this, do they?”

The answers to Craig’s questions, of course, must be, “Of myself. And for whatever it is I want to do.” More work is required.

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