Someone asked me (offline) whether I thought of myself/my work differently since getting my work into a museum, getting published, winning awards, etc. Â The short answer is yes, but I’m trying not to.
Let me start by saying that it’s fun to pick up honors and awards. Â There’s nothing like the thrill of picking up a blue ribbon, or having an article published, or having a complete stranger come up to you at a weaving conference and tell you how much they enjoy your blog. Â It’s fun, and I enjoy it.
That said, I think it’s unhealthy to get caught up into the ego game. Â Your work doesn’t care; it cares about the skill and work that you put into it, not what others will think of it. Â And focusing on building and maintaining a reputation, winning awards, etc. can be tremendously destructive, both personally and artistically. Â I went through this in high school and I learned my lesson: the more you think of yourself as above the rest, the more stress and grief you create for yourself in trying to maintain that position. Â It’s just not healthy.
The other reason I think it’s unhealthy is that viewing yourself as an expert can destroy “beginner’s mind”: being open to ideas, exploring, and learning from everyone, even those who are just starting. Â It’s too easy to close off your mind and think your way is the best way, or get frightened of exploring new things because you have a reputation to maintain. Â (I have seen good artists fall into ruts for exactly this reason.) Â I prefer to think of things the same way a good martial artist would: the black belt is not the summation of achievement, but an indication that you have mastered basic techniques, and are prepared to learn more. Â This allows one to maintain “beginner’s mind” – instead of an expert, you’re a fellow student, maybe someone who understands well enough to teach things to other students, but fundamentally a traveler on the same path.
All that said, there’s a lot of positive to winning awards, the main one being that it can bring more self-confidence to those who are unsure of their abilities. Â It’s easy to be too hard on one’s own work and skill level; it’s handy to have a total stranger, an “expert”, tell you that your work is good. Â I didn’t really take my weaving seriously until I entered “Tiger Eye” at CNCH 2008 and won an award with it; up until then I figured I’d only been weaving a year and a half, so how good could my weaving be? Â It does make a difference knowing that I can produce museum quality work; it encourages me to stretch my abilities.
But fundamentally, it’s not something I want to focus on. Â I want to do good work, and I think it doesn’t help to aim for awards. Â That’s something external to my artistic voice, and I want to make my work for myself, not others. Â So, while there are positives to winning awards, it’s not something I want to focus on. Â In the end, the work is what matters, and the work doesn’t care.