The Finnish movie director Aki Kaurismaki is known to have said about a new movie of his: “This was the first movie I didn’t entirely hate myself”, after making many movies that were considered “brilliant” by others.
In the book Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland, one of the authors recounts exclaiming to his piano teacher: ‘‘I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers.’’ To which the Master replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”
And then there’s these words by Ira Glass, writer and tv-host: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. (…) We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.”
All of this sets me thinking. I am familiar with a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction towards my own work. There are moments even when I hate and feel ashamed about my work, like Mr. Kaurismaki. I believe the cause for feelings as such is knowing I can do better. I say ‘knowing’ (as opposed to thinking/hoping/believing) because this does feel like a certainty. I am not saying that I know how or when, but I do know that I can make better work than I have made so far.
The piano teacher quote suggests that the version (of a song or a work of art) in your head might always be better and more beautiful than the version that is out there in the world (out of your fingers). Ira Glass appears to be more hopeful than the piano teacher. Glass considers that frustrating feeling to be due to a gap between your excellent taste and your not-yet-that-excellent work, and according to him this is a phase that we have to go through. One day the gap will close and you will make work that is all you want it to be.
I am not sure who to believe. I am convinced that I can make better work, and I might one day be very satisfied, like Mr. Kaurismaki when he made the film that he didn’t entirely hate. But even then, I might still feel that I could do better still, that the ideas in my head are still more beautiful than the actual work that comes out of my hands and fingers. It sounds sad at first: Is it the fate of an artist to be forever dissatisfied? Yet there is also a beauty to it: It will keep the artist forever aiming for the even more beautiful, and perhaps, forever aiming for the impossible.