Reflection: Amy Tan TED Talk
Amy Tan’s TED Talk was an enjoyable exploration of several of the general themes that I feel many artists encounter during their lives. I would have even liked the ideas to be explored more in-depth. Nonetheless, the talk pointed out and gave name to several sensations and phenomenon I experience as an artist, and gave me several new prompts for artistic growth and contemplation.
The nature vs nurture concept wasn’t new to me, but wasn’t something I’d consciously thought of in several years. It’s an idea I believe is meant to be perpetually debated and wondered about. I can’t be sure that I’ll ever be able to say with any degree of absolute certainty what parts of my personality
and creativity come from my nature, and which come from my environment. Some days, it doesn’t seem to matter anyway. On the other hand, questioning what I seek to produce and express as an artist often brings me back to the desire to know the origins of these wants. If I have an idea for a painting that is
about depression, why do I want it to be a painting? Why do I want it to be about depression? Am I depressed because I’ve convinced myself that I am, do I simply suffer from a chemical imbalance, or is it a cocktail of both? What attracts me to painting as a medium? Does my desire to paint stem from something biological, spiritual, or environmental? Again, some days these questions seem insignificant, and all that feels important is making the painting a reality. Other days, I incessantly question the origins of my specific desires for my art. Either way, there are constantly answers and new questions to be found through both regarding and disregarding the nature vs nurture concept.
Tan also mentioned things like the uncertainty principle, the observer effect, ambiguity, and intentions. The two that piqued my interest the most were the observer effect and intentions. As for the observer effect, the idea appears a bit complex to me but essentially it seems to be the idea that something changes as a result of simply being observed. This caught my attention because I often feel
that I am hyper-observant of my own thoughts and existence, often to such a level that I can be overwhelmed by it and become overly self-critical or get caught in feedback loops of stress, anxiety, uncertainty, or toxic thoughts. Observation has lately felt more like an enemy than something that can bring about creativity. In a book I’ve recently started, Emotional Rescue, there was a quote that stood out to me and ended up as a small illustration in my personal journal. It was the author encouraging the reader to find “The recognition of your emotions as creative energy beyond the polarities of good and bad”. This felt immediately significant to me, not only as an artist but as someone who has always been ruled by her emotions. My emotions have caused me a great deal of grief over the years by being something I succumbed to, rather than governed. Meditation has been something I’ve turned to more and more frequently in the recent past, as well as the quote from Emotional Rescue. After a while, being ruled by one’s emotions can become so exhausting and disheartening that by one set of means or another, those emotions become channeled into something rather than stewing and causing confusion or despair. On some of the most difficult days I’ve had with my emotions, artistic expression (and meditation) has been a healing and liberating medicine. It was nice to get a reminder on the concept of observation and its potential uses, both positive and negative. I also felt reminded that I can have the authority over my emotions whenever I choose to observe them without fear or judgement. This is a simple truth, but one easily forgotten.
Lastly, the mention of intentions reminded me of thoughts and ideas I’ve often struggled with. It became, sometime in the past (could’ve been months or years, I can’t be sure), that intentions were an excuse (for lack of a better word) for my shortcomings or things done wrongly to myself or others. If I treated someone poorly, or hurt someone, I would use my intentions as an escape from accountability or guilt. Ex: “I’m sorry it upset you when I said that haircut didn’t suit you. I wasn’t trying to be rude, I was just trying to be honest.” Just because I was trying to be honest, doesn’t excuse me from how what I said was received. If my friend couldn’t receive my intentions, that’s not their shortcoming. They have a right to their feelings about what I said. Who is right or wrong doesn’t matter at that point, because what I said was neither necessary nor considerate, no matter what my intentions. Therefore, disregarding that my friend considered it rude and saying “well, that wasn’t my intention” is an attempt for me to shirk responsibility for my lack of mindfulness. Intentions are a tricky thing, and still so often mysterious to me. The best thing I’ve found to do is be mindful of using my intentions as a way to avoid being held accountable.