'What John's saying is the types who don't hang in there and slog on the patient road toward mastery are basically three. Types. You've got what he calls your Despairing type, who's fine as long as he's in the quick-improvement stage before a plateau, but then he hits a plateau and sees himself seem to stall, not getting better as fast or even seeming to get a little worse, and this type gives in to frustration and despair, because he hasn't got the humbleness and patience to hang in there and slog, and he can't stand the time he has to put in on plateaux, and what happens?'
'Germonimo!' the other kids yell, not quite in sync.
'He bails, right,' Chu says. He refers to index cards. Wayne's head makes the door rattle slightly. Chu says, 'Then you've got your Obsessive type, J.W. says, so eager to plateau-hop he doesn't even know the word patient, much less humble or slog, when he gets stalled at a plateau he tries to like will and force himself off it, by sheer force of work and drill and will and practice, drilling and obsessively honing and working more and more, as in frantically, and he overdoes it and gets hurt, and pretty soon he's all cronically messed up with injuries, and he hobbles around on the court still obsessively overworking, until finally he's hardly even able to walk or swing, and his ranking plummets, until finally one P.M. there's a little knock on his door and it's deLint, here for a little chat about your progress here at E.T.A.'
'Banzai! El Bailo! See ya!'
Then what John considers maybe the worst type, because it can cunningly masquerade as patience and humble frustration. You’ve got the Complacent type, who improves radically until he hits a plateau, and is content with the radical improvement he’s made to get to the plateau, and doesn’t mind staying at the plateau because it’s comfortable and familiar, and he doesn’t worry about getting off it, and pretty soon you find he’s designed a whole game around compensating for the weaknesses and chinks in the armor the given plateau represents in his game, still — his whole game is based on this plateau now. And little by little, guys he used to beat start beating him, locating the chinks of the plateau, and his rank starts to slide, but he’ll say he doesn’t care, he says he’s in it for the love of the game, and he always smiles but there gets to be something sort of tight and hangdog about his smile, and he always smiles and is real nice to everybody and real good to have around but he keeps staying where he is while other guys hop plateaux, and he gets beat more and more, but he’s content. Until one day there’s a quiet knock at the door.’
'A quiet chat!'
An excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest that I believe perfectly sums up the ever-present struggle for an artist. While this particular passage is speaking about tennis, it’s true of any skill/talent that, at some point, you have to stop being comfortable and push yourself on to a new level of excellence.
It’s easy, when you’re at the top of the heap, to look around you and say “why, I am the most talented person in the room”. But as soon as you leave the room, you realize how very, very low you are on the totem pole of talented individuals. Some people give up, some people go back to the room and never leave again, and some people begin to climb.
I want to climb. I can look through my work from the past and see where I’ve hit different peaks, but I also look at what I’m producing now and I notice nothing but the flaws. The road to improvement begins with recognizing your weaknesses, and eliminating them. It’s lengthy, it’s hard, it’s not often fun. But I don’t want to remain locked in the room.
So we press on! We practice! We begin to excel! And in time, improvement can be measured and seen and felt and that, that is the best feeling in the world.
Apologies for the lengthy quote/unscheduled sermon. I’ve just been feeling somewhat introspective lately in regards to my illustration, and I think it’s because I allowed myself to lapse into the zone of comfort, and was rudely shaken out of it when I tried to draw and realized how awful I had allowed myself to become.
I can do better. I will do better. There are many higher points on the horizon.