Friday, July 20, 2012

Potential Energy and Being Actually Self-actualized

A close-up of a pink blooming rose

You have a lot of potential, we are sometimes told by other people. For instance, the young may often demonstrate a certain knack for some abilities, be it sports, writing, painting or playing music. We can often – or at least think to – spot talent when we encounter it. Then as a parent, teacher, or friend, we try to encourage these people to capitalize on their talent, i.e. to become famous and make loads of money from it.

Yet the question is whether talent should or needs to be exploited for monetary and commercial reasons. Some call it vocation, or a gift of God, and when it comes to certain activities, these people are indeed substantially better than others at it. They seem to born with it, meaning that we think of it rather as a natural expression than a hard-earned sweat-and-brow effort.

I am thinking of Mozart, the fountain that simply brimmed over with talent and who could, perhaps at will or call, pour out his emotions in such a light, effortless yet constantly grandiose manner that the faces of the competition, i.e. other musicians, must have turned green like Irish pasture.

Although people make you believe that you can be or do anything under the sun that pleases you, in reality, there are many limitations. Mine is painting. I have tried (believe me I have), but not even stick people turn out to be what I intended or what they are supposed to be. Of course, I could work hard, take classes, draw and paint the life out of me, but I will never become the next Picasso (Although some of Picasso's work may look simple, you still have to know how to paint first before you can undertake your own sets of experiments.)

But, to return to my question, why should it be necessary to turn your talent (talents if you are even luckier) into a goldmine? Is it to convince the rest of the world that you have talent like on one of those scouting my country “got talent” shows? 

But then again, true talent or genius has almost always been exposed to mixed, polarized reviews. (I am still in shock that although some recognized and acknowledged its merits, Malick's masterpiece The Tree of Life was booed or walked out upon by others who should actually know better!) All this may come down, at least superficially, to how much money you can make, but then that would mean Roland Emmerich has more talent than Terrence Malick? Really?

To return to our main issue here, it should be your task or duty to not let your special talents to go to waste. In other words, to create what you know and do best and hence to refine and draw upon your given talents. Then, the pleasure that you have found in the artistic or athletic endeavor can (but not must!) be used in order to give pleasure to others, spectators or listeners. Whether they like it or not depends mostly on them and may not always reflect upon the quality of your work as long as you deem the work an honest reflection of yourself and your capabilities.

But let us say that the young talented person decides not to profit from his potential and merely writes and draws in his own corner ultimately for his own pleasure. We might feel disappointed, in extreme cases, even get angry with him because he did not reach the level of fame and fortune we thought he had in him. Why let it all go to waste?

And he might respond, well, what does potential really mean? I mean, we may agree on the matter of talent, but is the fact that I have talent (more so than you) not enough; do I need to prove it (and show it off) to others who might not give a damn anyhow? Do I need to suck the life out of it by making a 9 to 5 profession out of it?

Potential energy means that the energy contained is within it but we won't know for sure until it has been released or actualized. The atomic bomb has the capacity to wreak havoc but we did not fully know this until we actually dropped it (but we are told that our more modern versions are many times more devastating than the first ones and we hope to never find this out!).

That may work for physics, but is it the same for talent? Again, I am certain that talent is the first step and most of us, not being Mozart or Picasso, must work hard to fully develop, hone and ripen those skills. That is then the level of output. If you are keeping it within, you are letting it go to waste unused, the same way a battery has stored energy but if not put to the test resembles any other empty battery ready to be recycled.

At the same time, it could be like Kafka who kept his work mainly locked up and wished to have it destroyed after his death. Thank God, his friend Max Brod did not follow through with it because we would have been deprived of a great and unique voice of the century.

Yet nobody (that I know of) would say that Kafka had potential. He was, in fact, talented and like the aforementioned Mozart or to add Poe to the mix or actually any other host of geniuses, his actualization as an artist had little or nothing to do with money or even his audience; they did what they did best and through this act magically turned potential into self-actualization.


Vincent said...

Ah yes, The Tree of Life: a masterpiece to many critics, and a piece of vapid pretentiousness to others. I set out my own view of it in

I compared it to Paradise Lost which is not very fair to Milton, whose erudition and allusiveness continue to dazzle scholars and for hundreds of years, whilst Malick's autobiographical piece will not last very long in favour I suspect.

I praise those who walked out on his film. They recognized that whilst it may be his masterpiece, that doesn't make it any business of theirs; and they probably felt, as I did, let down by the critics.

And you can keep Picasso too!

In my view, saying You have a lot of potential doesn't mean that there is such a thing as potential; only that person A is encouraging person B, probably to be less lazy.

As for seeking to profit from one's talents, that's a modern cultural phenomenon fostered for all kinds of reasons. It doesn't necessarily add to the sum of human happiness that people should spend their lives in almost certainly fruitless striving. On that point I'm guessing that we're probably agreed, dear Arash.

Arashmania said...

Thank you for comment and link on The Tree of Life. I chose Malick from a more than a handful of other better and more known directors for a specific reason: It fit the shoe or bill perfectly here.

Let me explain. I have admired Malick's previous films, felt that there was "potential" there that never fully blossomed or actualized itself.

So I approached this movie with the caution of expecting another movie filled with visual beauty and lack of characterization Malick-style. Expecting disaster, I was thoroughly pleased to find a movie that I actually enjoyed!

I chose this movie as an example here for another reason. It is a more obvious contrast to Hollywood stereotypes, and pretentious or not, it is both experimental and ambitious. Sure, experiments are on a trail and error basis and may fail; here, I must say that I found this one to be one of the best of the year, especially when seen in the light of competition with The Help, Hugo, The Artist or Bridesmaids, to name a few.

I read the review about grim suffering, and it had turned me away from this film for a certain amount of time. But again, here we have a very personal and strangely personally (for me) emotionally resonating and moving film; a culmination of Malick's work.

As for Picasso, when it comes to art, I am as hopeless in appreciating as I am in painting it. How about Van Gogh, or Dali instead, or most of the French impressionists?

Curiously, there was little disagreement over Mozart and Kafka. I believe their genius have securely stood the test of time.