Creon Upton – 8 July, 2010
And meanwhile, on the other side of town so to speak, there are these mythical creatures called artists, and they have apparently made some devil's pact whereby the mind-culture-duty integration is always already achieved because their natural inclinations already constitute identity. The mythical artist's basic impulse is not to strangle their sibling; nor to display their genitals to the neighbours; nor to destroy a candle on the new rug; nor to read science fiction until the world actually, literally, disappears - but rather it is to quietly create stuff.
The Psychology of Achievement: The Five Secrets of the Inner Game of Achievement
Sunday 4 July, 4 pm
The psychology of achievement: An inspiring and motivating presentation at the Physics Room by business mentor and motivational speaker Lawrence Green, in association with James Oram’s exhibition Game Face
I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.
- Kurt Vonnegut
Conformity begins with an understanding that goes something like this: “I never want to have to feel that kind of bad again.” Finely-tuned predators such as teachers, parents, friends, and girls or boys whom we thought maybe loved us all possess a natural ability to make us feel like that, without even really knowing that they’re doing it. It is these that are the real life-changing moments.
They are moments that start us off on our various paths of seriousness and sublimation, where our creativity, energy, lust, fury and desire are pointed in particular directions, geared towards certain ends that are more or less dictated by others. Yet we believe - it seems only natural to believe - that somehow we should be able to, and that we should aspire to, bring what I’ll crudely call our instincts, our realities, and our reasons for living into some kind of workable harmony. That is, a dynamic is created whereby we’re forever seeking some accommodation, some pure contiguity and ease, among our partially repressed desires, the world we succumb to, and the material ends (what we produce for the economy) that we achieve to sustain ourselves. (We all want to be Hawkeye Pierce, in other words - or Horatio Caine for that matter.)
And to help us achieve these meetings of mind, culture and duty we have invented career coaches and Myers-Briggs and motivational speakers.
And there’s always this careful obfuscation going on whereby we must never admit that what we’re actually talking about are the things that we only do at all for the money - so that we can have peanut butter and cookies and new sneakers. (Hawkeye has no need for money, being as he is on the other side of civilisation, living off the mess tent and a home made gin still. And Horatio? He’s lucky enough to occupy a universe where nothing ever wears out.) So Myers-Briggs, motivation, career advancement, it’s all about fulfilment and identity - the meeting of mind, culture and duty - but it’s also always and forever, always, strictly on the terms of the last of these.
And meanwhile, on the other side of town so to speak, there are these mythical creatures called artists, and they have apparently made some devil’s pact whereby the mind-culture-duty integration is always already achieved because their natural inclinations already constitute identity. The mythical artist’s basic impulse is not to strangle their sibling; nor to display their genitals to the neighbours; nor to destroy a candle on the new rug; nor to read science fiction until the world actually, literally, disappears - but rather it is to quietly create stuff. And even if these perfectionists are never quite happy with what it is they create, it’s in the process of creation, I suspect, that they get to feel the way people imagine they themselves might be able to feel when they hear from a motivational speaker about meaningful fulfilment.
It’s what happens when time flies.
So artists are pretty much the last people who need to hear from a motivational speaker: they simply don’t experience the basic existential tension in question.
And that’s why it seemed a peculiar thing to have Lawrence Green, motivational speaker, addressing a crowd at the Physics Room on a Sunday afternoon. Not so much, as I first thought, because artists and art-people are unreflectively going to assume that a motivational speaker is a jerk, but because they probably just don’t quite feel the existential pull that would incline your average disgruntled Joe to lend his ears to a narrative of his own potential to positively affect the world.
Now artists do, I think, experience that I never want to feel this again feeling - when teachers, or parents, or friends, or lovers, or curators, or CNZ, or art buyers disparage, condemn, misjudge, criticise or ignore their work. But that is a creative crisis, not an existential one. Yet the artist’s response - to rethink, to redo, or hopefully perhaps to harden up and obstinately dig in their heels - actually embodies the lesson that the motivational speaker would want to impart: keep doing your thing.
Or as Lawrence Green puts it, he’s pleased to have fallen on his face so many times because that means that at least he’s moving forward. (I do love those tidy little compound metaphors and their invariable effect of suggesting that if clichés can combine to reflect cogent ideas that must surely indicate deep profundity.)
So on this reading Lawrence Green’s message is for us to get over our existential petulance (a big ask, but a fashionably Buddhist one) and, when it comes to the business of living, to reveal the artist within: to think less about what we do and more about how we do it. It’s the same seductive but sincere appeal that Joyce makes to us when he has a character note that “There’s a touch of the artist about old Bloom.”
Yet Bloom seems to embody Kurt Vonnegut’s prescription above more than he does anything to do with elite performers or faster achievement. Nonetheless, he does ok for himself canvassing for ads as he farts around Dublin, keeping half a mind on what he’s earning (as Stephen the artist keeps half a mind on what he owes). Bloom works on his own terms, which is (approximately - I’m rephrasing) how Lawrence Green defined for us his personal idea of success.
As for the talk, I really enjoyed it. If you can imagine such a thing, Lawrence is, through and through, a motivational speaker of Aotearoa. He’s laconic; he’s unostentatiously eloquent; he involves the audience in easy, non-threatening ways; he can stand in front of a crowd with an arm hanging at his side looking completely at ease. I can’t imagine a better man for the job, and I was utterly charmed. He even got under my skin a little: I came out feeling kind of, what? positive, or optimistic, or something.
There wasn’t too much cynicism in the room, either, and the audience appeared entertained - and they were probably largely persuaded by most of the simple good sense on offer, of which we all need more reminding, possibly, than we get. At the same time, I felt by and large that they treated Lawrence’s performance as performance (which of course is what it is); they sat back and consumed; they enjoyed the show, without seeming to feel personally addressed by it. Perhaps - obvious thing to say - they treated it more as a work of art than as an exhortation to act.
GRACE BUTLER MEMORIAL FOUNDATION AWARD AT ARA
3 Month Studio Residency for an Artist with an Association with Canterbury