Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Walking Toward Certainty with Terror in Your Throat

 Have you heard of performance artist, Philippe Petit? I caught a radio interview that he gave as I worked in my studio this morning. He is famous for so many amazing feats, including his 1975 tightrope walk between New York's twin towers.

 I don't think that many of us can really understand the terror that would accompany pulling off a stunt like that. What really struck me though was Philippe's description of the way that the faith in his last step allowed him to take his first step onto a wire 110 stories above the ground. 

We all think of the thrill of his stunts. Will he make it across or will he slip and fall to his death? Embracing the terror of the unknown is such a crucial part of his art. Philippe himself emphasizes this importance in creative work. "Surprise yourself," he tells us. "Go against your taste. Do not fall victim to something that works." And I agree: making art requires a certain danger, a particular wandering into the dark of the unknown.

Still, I come back to Philippe's subtler message: The certitude of the first step comes from a faith in the last. Art, he says, is the result of work in a particular direction. It is "an adventure that ends in an exclamation and hopefully not so many questions." 

We must dive into our creative endeavors with all the risk associated with unknown, but we should be fortified by our conviction that the full-heartness of such an adventure will bring us to the beautiful. We have to walk toward certainty with terror in our throats.
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