There are two types of people: Those who believe there are two types of people and those who don’t.
I have always loved “two types of people” categorizations, because they reveal core tensions at work around us and within us—poles pulling or pushing each other and everything/everyone caught in between them.
Certainly we’re not one type of person or another, as the surface of these arguments suggest. We’re both. Yet, we tend to be more one than the other.
It’s our work within (and through) these tensions that forms our artistic, creative and spiritual identities.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of these tensions at work as we work.
I’ve struggled with the tension of process vs. product. Should my root note be my love of the craft of creative writing? Which means accepting that the success and spread of my work may be significantly limited by my approach and interests.
Or should my root note be the product—the book, poem, essay, article, speech, video, song or whatever? Which means my process must serve the product. Which means I may not be able to go as deep as I prefer in my craft—robbing me of a key source of joy.
Like most of life’s tensions, it’s one that can’t be resolved. It must be endured.
In Ulysses, James Joyce wrote, “The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring?”
This isn’t about process or product. It’s about something much deeper. And much more important.
My favorite artists—the poets, writers, painters, photographers, musicians and filmmakers to which I continually return—are favorites because they draw me into who they are.
It’s as if the art is the doorway to the artist.
Joyce wrote, in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, “The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”
I love this idea of the creator accessible through the work, but only for those who chose pursuit.
Which begs me to ask the supreme question of myself: Out of how deep a life does my art spring?
Of course, I don’t get to answer this. But you do.
How deeply does my work penetrate your intellect, emotions and spirit?
And how long will it sustain?
Does my work offer access to me within or behind or beyond or above it?
Like me, you don’t get to answer these questions for yourself or your work either.
But you must ask them. Then you must stick around for the answers, which will return in time.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on March 24, 2013.