Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Invincible is Only a Word, The Best is Just a Title

Recently Monkey + Seal have really gotten into reading the manga Vagabond, by Inoue Takehiko. It follows the life story of Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary swordsman who wrote The Book of the Five Rings. It has influenced many of the current mangas (One Piece, Bleach) that we follow now.

Long story short, it's an awesome samurai story, with lots of samurai philosophy mixed in with crazy fight sequences. However, in collection 4, there's a very philosophical part where the protagonist is trying to wrap his head around the idea of the "invincible" swordsman. [Spoiler alert!!] If you're wondering what this has to do with art (besides being an awesome comic), keep reading, and we'll get to it.

So Musashi comes upon a super-tall mountain. He then climbs it barehanded because he "wants to see what's at the top." So while he's climbing this crazy mountain, he analyzes the recent events that have transpired, one of which is meeting an old, reportedly invincible swordsmaster whose sheer presence unnerved Musashi. As Musashi climbs, he tries to figure out what it means to be invincible.

When he finally reaches the peak of the mountain, he can't help but laugh as he finds that at this height he sees that there are many more mountains, and others that are taller than him. He realizes that no matter how high you climb, there are other mountains that are higher, and that "invincible" is just a word.

Some might call it fate, but just as Monkey was reading this, he was having an art crisis. Frustrated that he's not where he wanted to be in art, and that the hard work required was getting weary, Monkey wanted success and fame and to "be the best" immediately.

However, after reading the manga, Monkey realized something. No matter how big, no matter how famous, there's always someone on top. And when you are on the very, very top, there's still your own personal best to vanquish. So, instead of agonizing over "not being there yet," Monkey realized that the point of life is not to immediately and easily crush all competition. The point of life is to enjoy the ride and not to compare oneself or your accomplishments to others. Continue to strive for your own personal best and constantly hone your skill.

When the goal of becoming the world's greatest artist starts to overshadow the fun and wonder of creating art, that's when you need to take a step back and re-evaluate what you're doing. Yes, it's awesome and amazing and cool to get commissioned by a collector, or to land an awesome illustration account, or to win a gold award in the Society of Illustrator's annual. But, if you're not having fun creating the art, then really, what's the point? If the status or money is really what it's about you might as well be a software engineer (or some other high-paying profession) if you're going to hate your job anyway.

Titles are just that, titles. Really, at the end of the day, art should be fun, not a chore. Yes, it's hard work constantly creating, but we've found that studies and experimentation really helps break up the monotony and keeps the art from being a tedious trial to something invigorating and fun. "The Best" is just a title, so stop stressing over it and have some fun!

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