From Craftsman to Artist: February 2003
For 30 years I prided myself on being a craftsman as a musician. I left the art of music to those that I thought had more talent or training. I was content merely to play the right notes, on time, and in tune.
I was a player. Nothing more. I gave little attention to my own thoughts and preferences. Loud was as loud as the conductor wanted. Fast was as fast as the music required. What I felt, what I wanted, from the music of the moment was always subject to the whims of those around me.
When I practiced I practiced for that precision. I spent hours perfecting the craft of being able to do what anyone asked. What matter most to me was being able to play what others wanted when they wanted it. They placed the demands. They set the standards. I did my job. The satisfaction came not from pleasing myself, but from pleasing them.
I began to run as a craftsman, focusing mostly on the nuts and bolts of running. I worried about stride length and weekly mileage as though they held the secrets to success and satisfaction. I held to the belief that that arbitrary standards in the sport or running were like the arbitrary standards in the craft of music. If you met the standards you were good. If you didn’t, you weren’t.
I learned soon that the sport of running has only one true standard. Speed. Speed is the definition that the sport uses to distinguish not just the winners, but the entire hierarchy of best to worst. The pantheon of running gods is listed in order of their personal bests and their record times.
Using those arbitrary standards, my finishing times at every distance were horrible. The truth is, even cutting my finishing times in half wouldn’t have made them any good. But, like so many others, in those early years I struggled in frustration against the craft of running. I fought a relentless battle with my own body. I ignored the fun I was having and clung to the despair that I thought I should feel because I was slow.
I struggled against the barriers of speed and distance. I pushed myself to my own personal bests and record times. Despite my efforts, however, the frustration remained. I was getting better. I was going faster and farther, but the joy was nearly gone. Eventually I had to face the bitter truth. Even my very best wasn’t going to ever be very good.
It was then that I discovered that running, like music, is best enjoyed with the imprecision of art. Running is more than a craft. Running is more than the mere accumulation of miles. It is more than recording the minutes and seconds of every run. Running, when done with the heart of an artist, becomes a personal expression. It becomes a self-portrait done with water colors, not a black and white snapshot.
As a musical craftsman, there were lots of rights and wrongs. There was always the opportunity to be out of tune, to be early or late, to be too loud or too soft. In 30 years, I never played a perfect concert. As a running craftsman there were also lots of rights and wrongs. There was always the possibility of going out too fast, or training too hard, or having a bad day. I’ve never run a perfect race.
As an artist, though, there is no right or wrong. Picasso is no more right than Van Gogh. Beethoven is no more right than Bono. A 7 minute mile is no more right than a 7 hour marathon. They each can be a work of art when done with the honesty and integrity of an artist.
My running now has become an expression of who I am at the moment that I run. There are days when I am playful and spirited. On those days I run with all the power and stamina that I can summon. There are days when the colors I choose are stark and bold. Days when it is only on the ragged edge of effort that I can truly express myself.
But there are also days when my running pallet is filled with muted colors. There are days when the simple act of being out doors running is enough. There are days when I am not the subject of my work of art, only a small character set against the background of that day’s run.
And as an artist, I never know for sure what any day will bring. The mystery of the muse is a part of my daily running life. I can’t predict what the art of running will demand of me. I can only be prepared to follow my heart in whatever direction my feet decide to go.
Waddle On, friends.