One of my art professors, Ted Prescott, talked in our senior show class yesterday about "breaking away." Basically, he said he was interested in seeing work that we cared about. Even if that meant work that wasn't approved of by the faculty. Eventually, every artist needs to break away to make what they care about. He even went so far as to say that breaking away is a healthy thing, a necessary step in the life of an artist.
It made me happy, because that's been my whole year so far. I've spent it feeling combative when people try to direct my work in directions I don't care about, I've answered back with definite negatives, and I've spent this year figuring out exactly what I do care about and setting my priorities accordingly.
Nobody can find your artistic path for you. It just isn't possible. For that matter, nobody can teach you how to be organized or how to be successful at what you do. Every person has to find their own way around to whatever goal they really want. I feel like that's why graduation is so hard for so many people. Finally they're spinning their wheels, trying to get to their goal (or to even find their goal) but the path isn't set out for them and nobody can really give them advice or help them to get there. It's up to you.
Even with individual projects this is true. Nobody can tell you how to get to the end of a particular poem. You just have to work through the poem until you know what you want and what it needs. And then you have to work through several methods of getting to the goal you've determined. Then determine the one you like best or that best achieves your goals.
That's one of the things I learned over J-term break when I researched Elizabeth Bishop. I went to Vassar College to see her manuscripts and poem drafts and some of her artwork. In her poem drafts, I discovered a mind struggling with breaking away, not just from conventions or prior training or the expectations of professors, but a mind struggling to break away from the previous drafts of a poem until it met her interior criteria for approval.
The least number of drafts I ever saw from Elizabeth Bishop was five, and in most cases the number was closer to 15. With every new draft of the poem she was breaking away from what she thought she had to write to find something that was more truly hers, that was more truly what she wanted or needed or meant to write.
I also learned that she was obsessive and painted with watercolors and has terrible handwriting.
But in any case, this week my manifesto consists of this: avoid histories. None of this "When I started the poem I intended. . . " or "When I was five I liked to write. . ." or "This professor gave me this feedback and so this is how to piece got to be this way." No. One must break away. One must say, "This is the object. This is what it means." And then whatever audience happens to be near can critique as they like. But I reserve the right to politely ignore what they're saying and do what I feel the pieces need.
Maybe that is erroneous thinking. But nobody can show me my own path, so it's at least my own mistake. That makes it a step further along the right path -- my path -- than anything else could possibly be.