The Art of Mediocrity, or, Chop Wood, Carry Water

“I am an artist.”  Those words alone impress people, usually, like some pronouncement of genius.  There is often no differentiation, in peoples’ minds.  However, I will differentiate. I am not an artist like Leonardo da Vinci, casually taking a break from inventing the helicopter to quantify the characteristics of aerial perspective.  Nor like Michelangelo, willing to spend 4 years carving one magnificent sculpture, or another 4 painting the ceiling of a pretty ginormous room. 

I’m more an artist like the people on the streets of NYC, creating pretty cool cityscapes out of spray paint and upe paper.  Talented enough to impress most people, but not, artistically, memorable.

As as artist, it can be painful to have your work rejected in any sense, by anyone. Here is where two inspirations help me out. 

One is my former mentor in grad school, Professor Christ (not kidding), who once said to me (after I had had a scathing critique by my peers): “You can, generally, as an artist, either have everyone feel pretty ambivalent about you, or you can have some people who love your work and some who hate it.  Which would you prefer?”  Well, when you put it that way …

My other inspiration comes from Buddhist monks.  The humble dudes in the robes.  There is an expression in Buddhism: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”  In Buddhism, humility isn’t just expected, it’s a key to happiness … when you’re not focused on the self, on greatness or accomplishment, you’re just living in the moment, and that’s where you need to be. 

I love the realization that ‘greatness’ isn’t ‘great’.  I’m genuinely happy taking care of my family, cooking, doing laundry, even vacuuming on occasion.  I love schoolwork too, and when I have a job, I generally love my job (and my coworkers).  I don’t need a legacy other than being loved and appreciated by my husband and kids, helping people out, creating a few small things to add to the world.  I don’t equate value with salary, or possessions, or some societal concept of success.

There’s more to this story, about an offering rejected, and coming, once again, to the realization that you really, as an artist or a person, can’t be all things to all people.  And that that’s, honestly, ok.


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