Ten Thousand Days

The Importance of Being Earnest

September 17, 2018

Photo: Markus Spiske

Day 1489 – Day 1493

This week I was reminded of an art project that appeared on social media some time ago.  It was produced by a relatively new circle of artist friends.  The project parodied a famous artist in the genre that my friends pursue and I wasn’t completely sure whether it was done in homage or mockery.  I also wasn’t certain whether the parody was of the famous artist or of themselves.  Other friends helped me decode the intent through the hashtags and comments, and we concluded that the project took aim at the earnestness of the famous artist, for being excessive by today’s standard.

I think there is a danger in viewing any art from a previous era, out of the context of its time, but, more importantly, I wonder: when did the quality of earnestness become a subject of contempt?

Sources define the word ‘earnest’ differently but there seems to be a consensus that it means to be serious, highly convicted and sincere.   I found some sources that equated earnestness with being religious and moralising, but this is faulty logic:  An evangelist is earnest, but an earnest person is not necessarily an evangelist.  And, while a highly convicted person who exhibits sincerity may, in times past, have been found in societies that lacked moral ambiguity, Bob Dylan was a good example of earnestness that belonged to a counter culture where morals were individually felt, held, and acted upon.  Finally, many think that the quality of earnestness sucks the levity out of the room.  One can lack the ability to take perspective with gratitude, humour or fun, whether one is earnest or not.  In my experience, levity is the essential lubricant that allows one to pursue one’s convictions without burning out.  So, why the derision?

I notice that many in a younger age bracket – and maybe more so in the arts –  have adopted the counter-culture-turned-mainstream idea of doing and liking things ‘ironically,’ that many pop culture writers have rightly identified as a requirement of being in the circle of cool.  Along with ironic and mocking lifestyles, we’ve also seen the rise, within this crowd, of the quest for a life of ‘authenticity.’

I suspect that one who draws attention to a quality in themselves is one who lacks it most.  I know that is true whenever I do it.   The truly humble person doesn’t tweet about their humility.   The person who lives their life with presence, in the moment, and being real about who they are and how they feel,  has no need to hashtag themselves as authentic.  They are grounded in who they are and they don’t look outside of themselves for approval of their #authenticity.  By extension, I admit that gratitude has not been my natural tendency in life, and therefore, I practice it, and write about it and hope to inspire others who struggle with it, to be grateful.  Spiritual and contemplative paths don’t attract those who’ve achieved nirvana; one doesn’t need the path when one has already reached the destination.

So, I am curious why, on the one hand, authenticity can be a sought after and cherished experience, but earnestness is not.

I am an earnest person.  It would not be possible to honour the commitment to 10,000 days of these practices – shared publicly – without being serious about the task and having a deep conviction that it is worth doing.  To do it well requires openness and sincerity – or what we have called Authenticity.  And to be authentic requires a deep conviction of the need for the serious pursuit of self awareness.

I may never understand the motivation for that project, but I’ll admit that it saddened me and it took me some time to unravel why it impacted me this way.

I’m saddened that sincerity, deep conviction and seriousness may no longer be a de-rigueur part of the making of art.  I wonder what will be the purpose of art, without it.  Whether in vogue or not,  I’m grateful that, as a writer, and as a painter,  conviction and sincerity still enlivens me to make serious effort.  My intention is serious, not necessarily the form it takes.  I have written comedy and many of my paintings are whimsical but I have a purpose and a conviction behind it all and I’m grateful that those who have been moved by my work.

At a more personal level,  it pains me to feel judged, even if by proxy.  I have good associations with that famous artist.  I don’t care if people have the same taste as I do.  In fact, I like to mix with people of different tastes and experiences because they broaden my world and introduce me to new ideas.  However, nobody likes to have their taste, style or way of navigating the world judged, mocked and dismissed.  When we cannot be ourselves, when we cannot bring the best of ourselves to the table, we are in the wrong company.  We don’t need to be into the same things, in order to support one another in pursuing our passions.  We simply need to forgo judgement.  I’m grateful that I have good friends who don’t judge me for being different from them and I’m sad that these friends are no longer in a part of that circle.

I’ve chosen to distance myself from any fellow artist who backstabs or tears down another artist – famous or otherwise.  I’ve known a few famous people who are artists.  And the one thing we all have in common is that we are just people,  subject to the same insecurities, trying to make our art.  It takes courage to put our art into the world, even if we are famous (perhaps more so?), knowing that some will love it and some will hate it and – worst, perhaps of all – some will be indifferent to it.   We are all vulnerable when we put our art out there.

Sure, if your art is the art of satire, then I understand there is mockery involved.  But satire has a point – it is to awaken people from their complacency or false self images by exaggerating reality.  If there is no wake up call embedded in satire, or your genre is not satire in the first place, then it is just mean-spirited.   I’ve been in several different artistic circles from writing, to acting, to painting, to making music, and I’ve witnessed this bitchy and backstabbing behaviour in all of them.  I’ve had my own privately-held bitchy moments fueled by jealousy and frustration but I’ve tried to keep them to myself, and to resolve my underlying pain, because I know these moments serve nobody.  They perpetuate negativity and comparison and that robs me of the joy of creating.

When I was in writing school, I heard someone famous say that there is room at the top for all of us.   It seems to me that successful people – those who achieve their goals and create a legacy (like the famous artist, being mocked) – are not those who are looking around at what others are doing and putting them down.  They have their eyes on their own work.  They maintain their drive with optimism and conviction, and they elevate those they meet along the way, thereby, creating a culture of loyalty and positive community.  I’m grateful that I heard this concept early in my career, and I’ve tried to live by it and create a circle of mutual support.

I don’t claim to understand the paradox that these thirty-something artists’ who produced the project live within, because  I try to be authentic in all my dealings and  I believe that there is importance in being earnest.  We all care deeply about something.  Authenticity, it seems to me, requires that we own up to our earnestness, and risk being vulnerable enough to reveal to others, and to ourselves, the places in our hearts where we care the most.  Ironically perhaps, it may mean exposing ourselves to the threat of mockery.


Photo: Joey Nicotra

For what are you most grateful today?





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