Most everybody has seen the sign or heard the phrase “Mind the Gap,” it’s used in the London underground to remind passengers to be careful of the gap between the platform and the train. Whenever I think of that phrase now, I instead think of this powerful short message from famed producer and storyteller Ira Glass. His basic assertion is this: after time and exposure to a particular type of art you become more discerning, you develop great taste. Your ability to understand the complexity of the art is now helping you develop a mature sense of the art. Once that happens, you might find yourself with a desire to produce art. That’s when the trouble starts. You produce something and now that you have discerning taste, you begin to recognize the immaturity of your own production! You begin to recognize the gap!
Once we produce art and see that it comes up short, many of us stop producing art. We simply quit. Mr. Glass suggests instead of quitting, we need to close the gap. The best way to close the gap is to produce more work–to force yourself to create more and more until you have narrowed and closed the gap. I love this idea! I find it liberating. Instead of being defeated because your work isn’t great take comfort in the fact that you understand it isn’t great! You now have the good taste to recognize the gap; to quit now only leaves you discouraged and vulnerable.
Here are some things that helped me have the courage to work on closing the gap:
1. Don’t buy the hype about being financially rewarded. Why have a monetary expectation for what you produce? I get it, we all need money to make the world go around. But surely there can be satisfaction from work you produce that goes beyond monetary reward. We don’t play league softball or sing in the church choir hoping to get discovered or have those interests become incomes. We do it because we love it! Let that be the same with your art! Especially the the gap work.
2. Force yourself to work at it. Take a community education class, enter your painting into the county fair, audition for the your local theater’s production of King Lear (if your local theater is doing King Lear you may need to move) take a risk, share your gift, make yourself do it! I guarantee you if you pay $100 for a Community Ed class you’ll do it. Set deadlines, have an accountability partner, make yourself produce a body of work.
3. Don’t compare yourself, complete yourself. Of course you will evaluate your work compared to others, evaluating art is what helped you develop great taste in the first place! However, allow yourself to have the gap. Embrace it! Remind yourself you are working to improve your art, to improve who you, are to be a richer, fuller person!
4. Be patient and persistent. Give it some time, give it some space, but don’t give yourself an out. Make yourself produce work! Just don’t beat yourself up when you see the gap.
The older I get the more I admire those who produce things. My own appreciation for art is growing–with that comes a sense of inadequacy and fear as I am more keenly aware of the gap that exists in my own work. When I find myself tempted to quit, I just remember to “Mind the Gap.”