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Obscurity as an Apprenticeship

Anyone, whose creative effort has amounted to something significant, will admit that their success has been preceded by a period of obscurity. In other words, there has been a time when they were unknown, largely unnoticed or simply ignored. Many creatives may find themselves in that particular stage of their creative development, impatient to catch attention and make a name for ourselves as quickly as possible. While this is understandable and admirable, rushing towards success and fame might prevent us from enjoying the generous gifts of their fame-free situation. Let me elaborate.

Being out of the spotlight provides a creative mind with a huge amount of freedom for experimenting and developing their artistic signature style.The freedom of not having to meet any expectiations (other than one’s own or not even that!), not having to comply with an already established style/brand or measure up to a previous success. And while being acknowledged as an artist/writer/creative is a gift, we do benefit from a little preparation before being ready to receive it and accommodate it into our creative lives.

Almost every great artist/creative has once started as an apprentice in the atelier of an already established authority. They were asked to run errands, clean and order materials. They were asked and allowed to observe, learn, try, understand their own mistakes, copy the style of their masters until they felt they were done immitating and were ready to develop their own voice. If they would produce a remarkable piece, it would probably be attributed to and signed by their teacher. If they would fail completely, no one would know about it either. The apprenticeship meant they were welcome to explore possibility by humbly learning the craft in the safety of obscurity. In a sense, their fragile artistic presence was both shielded by both success and failure until they were ready to handle them.

“While fame impedes and constricts, obscurity wraps about a man like a mist; obscurity is dark, ample, and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded. Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffusion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes. He may seek the truth and speak it; he alone is free; he alone is truthful, he alone is at peace.” ― Virginia Woolf

When we explore our creative potential, we usually turn for inspiration to people who do what we love and hope to do the same in the future. Our heroes and muses might be living or long ago gone, yet it is our desire to create as beautifully and (seemingly) effortlessly as they did. We want to become and be like them. Imitating them, however, does not imply looking or behaving like them. It rather means looking deeply into their minds and work in order to grasp who they were as artists and people. That is, where they looked and how they saw.

“You want attention only after you’re doing really good work. There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better.” ― Austin Kleon

Freshness of insight and expression inevitably originates from a particular way of perceiving reality. So learning to understand how our creative role models perceive and interpret the world is essential to our creative growth. This requires time and is best done while no one is looking at us yet. If all eyes were already on us, this could stfile the quality of our early creative effort. That's why studying and imitating our creative heroes while enjoying the generous gift of our own creative obscurity is an excellent opportunity for establishing the foundations of our artistic presence.

©REBELLICCA, 2020

You might also like: It's the Artist's Job To..., Why Bother Making Art?, Musings on Creativity, The Conception of the Artist, The Artist is, How Much Do You Really Care?
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