PROCRASTINATION (You may want to read this later... ) © 1999 Andy Cooperman
A metalsmith friend of mine once told me that jewelers and metalsmiths (male jewelers and metalsmiths in particular) compulsively acquire tools and equipment as a way to procrastinate: holding at bay the uncertainties and discomfort of creating, substituting the highs and deeper satisfactions of the making for the short thrill of acquisition. Now, being a healthily compulsive male tool collecting jeweler/ metalsmith myself, I at first bristled at her statement. Upon deeper reflection, however, I saw the validity in what she had said ... with the exception, of course, of the word "male".
To be sure, I've certainly sat in my studio staring at the bench with my head pressed firmly against a brick wall: no where to turn but dead ends, a tense nail of frustration grinding its way up my spine. My thoughts rapidly descend into a deep well of negativity. "This place is so cluttered; the bench is old and shabby; the studio's a disgusting mess; my career is a disgusting mess; etc.; etc; etc." And then I've felt my pulse quicken as an answer becomes clear in a single word emerging as if from a fog: BENCH. Why... I'll buy myself a new bench! No, better yet, I'll make myself a new bench; of course first I'll need a new jigsaw, a better belt sander and a more accurate drill press. Now we're getting somewhere! All of a sudden a valve turns and a small door swings open through which can flow all that energy that was building up behind the dam of my "metals block". Blessed Relief.
The trouble is that when the bench is built and the shiny new tools--which I've hunted down at considerable bargains-- are put away, more often than not the indecision, along with its attendant frustration and lack of productivity, is still sitting there. The block remains.
I've been thinking a lot lately about fear, procrastination and missed opportunity. The increase in this volume of reflection is in no doubt due to the recent passage of my fortieth birthday. (I'm a walking cliché.) But I've been watching students, workshop attendees and fellow metalsmiths lately and I've seen some procrastination strategies that, while maybe not my preferred methods, are familiar. With all due respect to the compulsive tool collectors and bench builders, there are some subtler barriers that can be erected between the maker and the making. Some people choose to attend workshop after workshop, accumulating a varied array of information, techniques and procedures along with mountains of beautiful handouts. Their class tackle boxes are full of beautifully executed samples; their vocabularies of the various procedures of metalsmithing are impressive, but for some reason they don't string these technical “words” together to make sentences. Don't misunderstand me: many of them could produce wonderful things. Their ideas, when they share them, are challenging, their designs compelling. But something stands between them and the work. Sometimes pieces never leave the safety of their sketchbooks; other times their workboxes are filled w/ wonderful objects frozen in various stages of development, from small packets of components to nearly, but almost never fully, completed pieces.
I know other jewelers who set the studio space itself between them and their work. One is building the perfect studio, another is perennially trying to rent the ideal space. Something always seems to interfere w/ the process though, some glitch in the permitting process or an unreasonable landlord who refuses to cooperate. Alas, without a proper space in which to work, their innovative ideas never materialize. But one day-- with the right space.....
Perhaps an even more destructive form of procrastination occurs with those who make well considered, complete work: truly remarkable pieces that ellicit powerful reactions from most people who see them. The tragedy here is that despite all of the positive feedback and their professed desire to pursue a career as a working metalsmith, they don't take the leap of faith necessary to make their desires manifest. They shy away from compliments and discount their work through self-deprecation. Their pieces are given away to friends or sold at venues and at prices that fall way beneath the caliber of the work. This is fine if it gives them what they really desire. The making itself may, in fact, be enough for them (it should be, shouldn't it?) But if they really want to make a go of it, if they truly want to support themselves as jewelers and metalsmiths, is this the road to their goal? What's standing in their way? What's standing in the way of any of us?
One of the big answers, of course, is obvious: Fear. Fear of failure: What if nobody's interested in my work? Fear of embarrassment: What if they find out what kind of an artist I REALLY am? Fear of the unknown: What if this new direction leads nowhere? Fear of loss: I've had this idea in my mind for so long; dare I risk losing it by trying to actually make it? Fear of what comes next: Well, that's it, no new ideas and I'm all dried up.
It's tough to leave the relative safety of the sketchpad for the risky business of 3 dimensions. It's safe and easier to sit on the hub of a wheel with decisions and commitments radiating, spoke like, outwards in all directions. Choose one and all other options are negated. Choose none and all possibilities remain open. Quite the Catch-22. I've sat on that hub quite few times and, despite the fact that I know better, I'll probably be climbing right back on it next week., fears whirling 'round my head.
Maybe in tomorrow's light the solution to that neckpiece will crystallize. Maybe if I could relax with a beer or two the better of those two design choices will leap out. (God forbid I should make the WRONG decision.) Perhaps if I just had a more pleasant environment in which to work these decisions would come easier. I'm not really sure that I want to stick my neck out and enter that annual competition-- one from which I've been rejected several times-- and subject myself to professional humiliation. And really, it's much more pleasant to sit up here in the office, pecking away on my trusty Mac than being out in the studio beginning the new body of work that's due in California two weeks hence. (Suppose it isn't as good as the last group of pieces?)
But on a fundamental level I know that safety can sometimes be complacency and that the best work often enters through the door marked DISCOMFORT. If you don't turn the key in the car's ignition your chances of having an accident go way down, but so do your chances of making it 10 miles to a meeting that could change your life. Sometime the fluttering wings of those butterflies in your stomach stir up some wonderful things. You can't make an omelet without first breaking a few eggs. Like they say at the gym: "No pain, no gain." Even clichés have their roots in truth.