Sunday, January 7, 2007

Thank you Donald Murray

On and off again, I would read the column of Donald Murray in the Boston Globe. While he was of a different generation, his simple reflections offered in his column, entitled Now and Then, were genuine. He often offered insight into who we are as human beings, and why we do the things we do. In addition to being a writer, Mr. Murray was an amateur artist. Late in life he began to draw again, and wrote about it in his column.

In one of these columns, he talked about a book called Art and Fear, ( written by David Bayles and Ted Orland. He enthusiastically described the book and said he loved it so much he would buy it and give it to friends. That anyone and everyone should read it. On his recommendation, I bought the book. I have since recommended it to many, many people.

One lesson from the book that I loved, was about "bad" work. You make something awful. You absolutely hate it. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The usual response is to take this as proof that you are lacking in any talent or creative abilities. "You might as well just throw in the towel. What were you ever thinking, anyway?" We are often in search of just this evidence. That we are not one of those talented people. Those creative types. They are just different than the rest of us.

What I learned from this book is to embrace the bad work along with the good. Look at the bad stuff as just some of what you have to do on the way to the good work. And, look at it as an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity.

You hate it. The only place it should go is in the trash, and fast. But, wait a minute. If you hate it so much, you can't possibly ruin it now. It is already destined for the garbage. So why not have some fun with it now. Do the outrageous and daring things you can't or won't do when it is precious. Throw some more stuff on it. Cut it up. Make it into something else. No matter what you do, you will not hate it anymore than you already did. And you might end up loving it when you begin to let loose. I have made some wonderful discoveries in this fashion.

I have seen this approach turn around a sullen thirteen year old, who hated what she had done. Suddenly she was re-engaged, and ended up producing something that she loved. The next day, she was early to class, and eager to have at it.

Learning the dangers of the "precious" is a valuable one. You would be surprised how liberating it can be.

Donald Murray passed away at the end of 2006. I will miss his wisdom and insight. But then again, some of it I will carry with me forever. Thank you Donald Murray. You helped this person learn a few valuable lessons, and in the process, opened many doors.

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