I’m not sure when my wife and I first heard this line from Frasier, but we love it.
We’ve been using it on each other for years, and while I admit that inside jokes between spouses are funny to no one but themselves, this one has shifted my perspective on career, on life, and led to a number of successes. It’s this shift that I would like to share with readers.
At first, we’d parrot the line when one of us went off on a monologue or interrupted the other with a self-involved remark. Favorite words such as “I” and “me” gradually lost their appeal and were spoken, and welcomed, less by us both.
I began to dislike the sound of them from others as well:
“Come check out MY exhibition”, I would hear from another artist,
” Like MY Facebook page”,
“I am so pleased and honored that MY art has been selected for …”
The most bothersome part being that it was exactly how I sounded for the first 40 years of life. Correction… I was worse.
“If this is a pep-talk, Niles, then please get to the peppy part!”
Later the change in attitude took a constructive turn. Opportunities to replace the word “I” with “You” became more obvious and, voila, the career opportunities increased:
“Are any of these pieces of interest to you?”, I would email a collector. “Please get back to me at your convenience.” One gallery director was caught off-guard when I offered to come in and help with the hanging of a group show. Apparently, none of her artists had ever done this.
Gallery receptions can be energizing and fun. And I like when they’re over. Standing in a noisy room filled with art and people seems like such a contradiction to the quiet anonymity of the studio. Taking credit for the work almost feels like a betrayal of it. It’s as if the art and I started out as equal partners and then somehow it’s relegated to second billing at showtime.
I’m not trying to play the nice guy preaching altruism. It’s that I’ve learned how the feeling of being of service to those who appreciate it does more than trump the hollow satisfaction of being in the spotlight. It also leads to better work.
The ego is like a semi-opaque screen that can interfere with a painter’s vision. By taking attention off oneself and the outcome, an artist can connect more deeply with his or her subject while eliminating most of the anxiety that comes with the setbacks. You just keep your cool and deal with them without the emotion that accompanies “looking bad”. Try to imagine that the work belongs to a good friend and you’re simply lending a hand.
It took years for Frasier’s advice to sink in. Here’s what he didn’t say: don’t look at your work so much. When you take those few steps away from a painting, turn your back on it, focus on something else and clear your thoughts. A quick and easy way to break free of the identification.