The joy of the task was its own reward
September 21-December 1, 2013

Inspired in concept by Daniel H. Pink's book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us", the participating artists were asked to reflect on the intrinsic motivations behind making their work. Participating artists include: Mildred Beltre, Kelie Bowman, Cecile Chong, Christina P. Day, Joey Fauerso, Leslee Fraser, Teresa Getty, Ivan LOZANO, Marc Mitchell, John Orth, Gyan Shrosbree, Claire Stigliani, Hilary Wilder

Read the catalog essay for "The Joey of the Task Was Its Own Reward" by Jen Larsen

"The Joy of the Task"

There is no joy in writing. None. Endless books are dedicated to the misery of writing and how to overcome the almost insurmountable psychological barriers you throw up against the whole idea of writing. How to drag yourself with clawed and bloodied hands on your belly across a minefield paved with broken glass and broken dreams and self-hate, waiting for any of those softly ticking bombs to tear you into a spray of meat and bone and fountaining misery.

Writing is hard, and writers feel eternally sorry for themselves. Writing is about discipline, writers say. There are a lot of pieces of advice, small tiny winking diamonds of truth that writers flash and trade around. It’s about putting your butt in the chair and doing the work. Write every day. Writing is a muscle—it gets stronger with practice. Writers write. And writers who don’t write hate themselves.

Writers hate themselves. Writers hate themselves because they hate those aphorisms, and they hate themselves when they hear those sturdy, cheerful slogans coming out of their own mouths, aimed at writer friends or themselves in the mirror. Encouraging phrases that seem for brief and shining moments, beautiful moments, the happiest moments in life, like cradling a newborn made out of wild hope and incandescent possibility etc. and then turn out to not be useful, not even a little bit, because writers write. And all the slogans in the world don’t put words on the page for you.

Writing is terrifying. Like most, any, all creative work, it’s an exercise in throwing yourself, your whole entire self, the beautiful parts and the filthy parts and the shameful, degraded, messy, lonely sad and petrified parts at a blank screen, a white sheet of totally empty paper, and trusting that it’s enough to fill up all that space. That you won’t step back and look at the mess you made and wish you had left bare and blank well enough alone, because all that nothing is better than any part of you.

How do writers ever managed to write? How does anything get done, ever? Eventually, you just have to. Or eventually you never do it again.

Writing is exhilarating—the actual physical act of it. The reality of it. Falling the rhythm of your fingers on the keyboard or the swoop of your pen on the paper. It becomes a meditation, and it feels easy once you’re inside of it. Endless and effortless and better than most things. Everything drops away. Your fear and your terror and your worry and your doubt and your sorrow and your conviction that everything is broken in the world but especially you—because this isn’t broken. This is building. This is creating something that hadn’t been in the world before and couldn’t have been, without you and your hand moving across the page and the words flying out behind you like paper streamers.

There is joy in writing when you are inside it and then there’s joy when you look at what you’ve done, a cautious optimism that it is not all the worst things that have ever been committed to paper, a tiny flickering hope that you managed to fight through the gouts of bloody self-doubt and ignore, at least for a little while, the oh, so terrible tragedies of your own weak and fluttering heart. There’s joy in accomplishment, and for just a little awhile, it is everything and it is enough.

-Jen Larsen