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Saturday
Apr272019

Striving and achieving as a polymathic person

Polymaths, despite the new course for a polymathic degree that has just started in London under the aegis of the remarkable Carl Gombrich (musician/scientist/linguist) are apt to get a kicking from time to time, quite often in fact. And the reason is bleedin' obvious- if you try and do lots of things you probably aren't going to be world class at all of them...or even any of them. But note! This charge is always brought by people who are not world class, high class or even low class in ANYTHING. They use the excellence of others as a reason not to be mediocre and strivin' to get better but ...nothing. Just a cog who knows best. A touchline critic, a neutered nerd ready to review but not create.

And that in the end is what we are hedging around here. The human need to create, to make things, to be a player on the beach of life. To be striving not conniving or merely surviving. In Japan it is not uncommon for people to study martial arts an hour a day five days a week- sometimes before work- for years. They don't expect to become a master, but they do get better, slowly, incrementally. But far more importantly, they glimpse the possibilities of excellence, they have fleeting experiences of masterdom, insights into the worlds of achievement above and beyond them. Peter Levi the poet wrote that he'd never met a poet who didn't think he was better than Shakespeare. Because they have glimpsed, they have seen (and judge themselves on what they have glimpsed and judge all others on their attempts to communicate it).

So I salute all polymathic people out there giving it a go at things they may be even not that good at. Things that are hard for them to do, things they may even be mocked for trying. The mockers think they are 'realistic' because they echo the values of the age 'specialise, be a cog, don't waste time, be efficient with time and money'- the values of Henry Ford (anti-semite and Hitler supporter but let's not get distracted).

Instead, dig out your own valued things and activities. Try what you like, give everything a go if you want. A poisoned dwarf of an interviewer 'challenged' me on the radio in the US by saying 'what's the point of being a bad artist, a rotten poet?' I got angry when I should have been serene- the point is you've missed the point if you even frame a question like that. You've shown you just don't get it. When writer Mark Salzman showed examples of 'bad art' he had found at garage sales to inmates of a prison in an attempt to get a cheap laugh he found them unresponsive. They pointed out the sincerity in much of it, the simplicity and courage, the heartfeltness. He felt ashamed that he had ever been caught up in the coercive commodified notion of art peddled everywhere where critics flourish in their evil smelling bowers and towers...

I am not about to say 'Do Bad Art' (well I almost was) because the words don't make much sense to me. If you are striving, if you are making, if you doing rather than criticising others then whatever you make has real value. Instead of collecting the work of others, collect your own work...or even both.

The point is NOT that you are 'good' or 'not good', the poinit is that you are on a path, learning something, being perceptive (which means not just seeing but using what you see).

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