There is enormous temptation to talk about one or the other aspect of the work as being good or bad: “using black and white in a painting is bad” “autobiography is good”. When we locate a behavior as bad we set the stage for dramatic conflict where we vow to be good, to never again do the bad thing. We struggle mightily against the bad, we curse ourselves for our laziness in backsliding and falling in to bad habits, we make new promises, do good for a while and then the fateful moment comes when we suddenly hear that demonic voice in our heads asking us whether or not it would just be more fun to be bad, to misbehave. Aren’t we deep down bad already, haven’t we always been bad? Who are these bluenoses who make up these stupid rules? We’ll defy them and revel in our badness: our perspective will be wonky, we’ll make jokey one-liners. Whatever it takes. Then after a week or so we wake up and repent. We understand the wisdom of everyone else and return to the straight and narrow. And we begin the whole epic struggle again.
All of that has nothing to do with getting on with our work. While it is emotionally satisfying to replay the thousands of times we tussled with authority in our lives, declaring ourselves good or bad is not practicing our art. Our job as creators is to look at the results of our actions and ask what they can teach us, so that we can move on to the next piece. Sorting our actions into good and bad does nothing to further our understanding of the piece. The good/bad drama we set up can in fact be a convenient distraction from the emotional complexities in the work that is right in front of our noses. This is a species of continuing to act in the mindset of a child when one is in fact an adult. We make some other outside person or persons into our parents and then rebel against them. It feels comforting to do so, to experience the righteous anger of an adolescent, because we don’t have to then experience the more disturbing implications of our own power.
Remember: in the studio you can do exactly what you want. There are no parents there other than the ones you invite in.
Good and bad translate quickly into either/or. When confronted with an either/or choice in my own thinking, I try to choose “Both” instead. By embracing both possibilities for making, I learn what each one has to teach me.