(A Step Towards)
Mastery in Art
In moments of quiet reflection, somewhere between confidence and melancholy, a sensitive soul hopes that they will mature as they grow older. They hope that though the vicissitudes of life will make their growth erratic and at times imperceptible, over the course of long stretches of time—over the course of years, of decades, of an entire life—they will, on the whole, be a better proposition. They will be firmer in resolution. They will have learned from mistakes. They will do what they do (if they have indeed chosen what it is they wish to do) better than they did before—perhaps better than anyone else. In short, one hopes that over time, there is a trend towards improvement. For the truly ambitious—and for artists in particular—these sensitive souls hope to attain mastery of their given art form.
Casting aside all notions of arrogance, and perhaps accepting that few (if any) attain true mastery—let alone perfection—it is undoubtedly the case that mastery is a realistic goal. I believe that those blessed with the gift of rational ambition should not only be proud of their search for mastery, but should seek to attain it. Taking this potential goal, an artist—for it is artists that I am addressing here, though the notion of mastery can be applied to many areas of human accomplishment—can move beyond that ethereal, fragile moment of wondering ‘How good will I become? Are my best days behind me? Will I ever become a Great?’ towards a very specific, realistic and logical plan.
Let me be clear: though mastery and greatness are lofty concepts that contain a particular aura, these are achievable goals. These concepts truly exist: if one accepts that there have ever been masters, or have ever been greats (and I am talking here of the Kants, the Shakespeares, the Mozarts) then it is logically possible for a person to become great. The odds do not concern us. The logical possibility of becoming a master, becoming a great, is the transcendental precondition for the attainment of these values.
If we are to approach the subject of attaining mastery and of becoming great, then we must dispel the Romantic aura of these notions. This is not a denial of their value: indeed, their value is the very reason that these goals are worth fighting for, worth devoting one’s life too—and this, coming from the mouth of a man who believes in very little. Rather, if we are to aim at the achievement of these incredible accomplishments, we must stick with logical approach. Yes: though emotion—positive emotions, in this case—may draw one towards seeking mastery and greatness, it will be logic that will see it through. What follows, then, is an attempt to outline one of the necessary steps in attaining mastery—or, at least, making important steps towards it.
I began with the fragile notion of wondering if one was improving—with good reason. In art, there is apparently much mystery concerning the process of creation—even more so with the distinction between what makes a bad artist into a mediocre one, and a good artist into a great one. Perhaps it is because of my particular constitution as an artist-philosopher, but I believe the steady, precise and continuous focus on how one operates as an artist is essential to one’s success. This is not to discredit those who simply ‘let the magic happen’, and do not wish to tinker with that magic—but I am concerned with definite improvement, precisely because I seek to master the forms in which I work. I do not say such analysis is easy, or even predictable: like a great work, though planning can take one far, there is still work to be done. Just as life provides the artist with the materials for their work, practise—and, in this case, self-reflection—allows the artist to improve and make a move towards mastery. I consider this work ‘philosophical’, though I fail to see how a true artist (who is committed to their work) cannot be at least a part-time philosopher. Given that I am a writer, I will focus on the process of writing.
Recently, I have found myself in possession of a new capability. In reality, I have always been able to execute this ability—I have simply been unconscious of it. I am sure that this self-consciousness arose because of the things mentioned above (practise and self-reflection), though I know that it is a direct result of maturity. It is for this reason that I began by describing the sensitive soul who is concerned with improving over time. I consider this new capability to be one afforded solely by maturity, and a perfect example of a moment that such a soul has pin-pointed one particularly momentous occasion on which they improved permanently. As befits a writer, I find it essential to commit this particular capability to paper—for myself, but also for all others who wish to take their art seriously.
This work thus stands at an interesting position: by outlining a capability that I have earned via time and effort, I may perhaps be saving considerable amounts of time for those who read it. That being said, it may well be the case that it requires a particular maturity to truly grasp the concept and put it into practise. A younger version of myself, reading this, may not have known quite what to do with the information. Regardless, it is time to outline this capability. Note that it is applicable in any art, and quite possibly in any sphere of life—but I will instantiate the action in the composition of a short piece of writing.
The capability can be described in controversial, but no doubt accurate terms, as:
The ability to control time. Read more
Welcome to the newest version of LukeLabern.com.
Whereas before the purpose of the site was to function solely as an online archive of my writing, now that I have finished my degree and can focus on my true goals, I have decided to make to change the emphasis of the site. If you visit the new about page, I explain the goals there. I will quickly provide a concise outline of the purpose of this site, however, and what you will find here.
Apart from the cosmetic changes—the site retains its traditional white, black and purple—the function of the site has changed. It is now an online archive and a blog. I have not kept a blog for around 9 years. I highly doubt the blog will be a standard personal log: I prefer to reveal my mental state through my writing. Rather, the blog aspect of the site will focus on the process of creation, of philosophising and of writing.
In short, this site will focus on my writing (portfolio) and the business of being a writer (blog).
In this way, I hope to expand my audience online at the same time as I begin to make an impact in the world of publishing. My aim here, as always, is to inspire and change the lives of those who read my writing. With this new addition, however, I hope to offer advice and inspiration to other writers, philosophers and creative people. Though all bloggers, if they wish to become successful, should focus on a very particular niche, in the same way that I do not limit my thematic or formal approaches to art, I will not restrict myself in terms of topic. To be clear, however, I will focus on the peculiar profession of being a writer/artist in the 21st Century.
Saying this, all sorts of clichéd images enter one’s mind. It is precisely these images that I wish to dispel. Taking my own life as an example, there is nothing clichéd about it. It is a unique life, a strange life and often a profound life. The authenticity I possess on this subject stems from the fact that my life is centred around my writing and thinking.
Such an introductory blog post as this can only do so much: I will let the content speak for itself. I must mention that I have clear goals for the site’s readership. Whereas before I focused solely on writing to the detriment of trying to grow the site itself, this time I will be aiming to grow it organically. I hope that all who read and are affected by what I write share and spread the word. My primary aim is to affect people meaningfully; an auxiliary aim is to affect as many people as possible; to take advantage of the opportunity the internet affords.
If one is wondering how the navigation is structured, I shall briefly explain. Given that the site already contains 200+ works of art—and is thus content rich—I have organised the site based around portfolios. The full portfolio offers the entire breadth of my work in chronological order; the genre portfolios do the same, but are limited to a respective form (essay, story, poem, etc.). I will organise my blog posts similarly: by month. I will aim to write at least 3 blog posts a week, perhaps increasing this where relevant. Because there are exciting things happening as regards my writing career, I cannot yet commit to a pattern of art—but with a live and flourishing place to place my work, I have no doubt that I will write more than ever.
I look forward to hearing from you in the comments, and I hope you enjoy the work enough to share with others.
Smuggle me out of the backdoor in blood
My pressure leaking from my pores
Watch me flood everything of yours
My legs like stone, I cannot move
And could I prove it, I’d die in peace
I’m better, I’m better, I’m best
Of all —
When I don’t listen, nor absorb
The mediocrity all around me.
Smother me in all I’ve done:
The only thing I wish to hide is all of you.
Corrupt my dreams, and we can wake up
To the truth: that I have held it together
For peace — but peace is artificial.
Conflict bubbles up like heat rises:
And you know what they about physics;
It’s overwritten all the things I wish to do.
You know scientists have it all.
(They have nothing.)
Nothing is my domain:
No one understands it, nor ever will:
You can carry on living; I’ve got things to kill.
In the following, I will outline—in the simplest language possible—what the basics of programming are. This will form the first in a series where I aim to take you from the basic concepts to writing useful little programs in a real programming language in the minimum amount of time. For this introduction, however, all you need to do is read: I hope that this article demystifies what is, in truth, an empowering and very simple tool. If nothing else, like mental health issues, it doesn’t deserve the stigma that is attached to it. I hope you find the following interesting: please visit codecademy for interactive tutorials. It’s my very favourite website, and can literally take you from non-programmer to professional. Try Ruby is a beautiful and simple way to start programming within 10 seconds: give it a go! As always, feel free to contact me or leave a question if you’re interested.
In the examples, I have used real-life examples to highlight how these simple structures define the way we interact with computers and websites.
All of the following are found in any programming language; once you know them, you quite literally have the keys to all programming languages. You do not need to memorise these terms: they are here merely to help you understand the examples below. Think of them as a useful glossary: it is the examples which outline the logic of programming. — If you are interested in learning how to program, then these terms are, I think, nice, concise definitions.
- Strings—strings are alphanumeric data stored within quote marks (” or ‘).
- Integers—whole numbers (1, 2, 3,000,001).
- Floating point numbers—decimal numbers (3.1, 4.5454, 1001.4343).
- Variables—store strings, integers, floating point numbers or other variables within them. (In some languages, the variable type must be declared [e.g. int myVar] whereas in others they do not [$myVar in php or my_var in python].
- Array/list—a more complex data type which stores a series of data that are connected in some way. For example, one might wish to collect a list of ages. Rather than use an endless series of variables (e.g. lauras_age = 6, martins_age = 7, etc.) one might choose to use an array, a list or a more complex data type known (in python) as a dictionary, or a tuple. So we might have an array or list known as ages, which contained the data: 6, 7, etc. For a more intuitive version, we could use a dictionary, also called ages, which stored the name of the person as a key and their age as a value: Laura, 6; Martin, 7, etc. Arrays are essential to all programming languages, but there are variants (arrays in python are known as lists, whilst dictionaries and tuples also possess an important role in that language).
- Functions—reusable blocks of code which, like variables, allow a programmer to focus their attention on one part of their code in order to affect multiple parts of it. Added to this, functions take arguments.
- Arguments—these are passed into a function (usually in the form Function(arguments)) and allow the function to do work on the given argument. Often, there will be vital information inputted by the user (such as a number, their name, etc.), thus forming an argument which will be passed into the function. I will cover functions and arguments in a later argument.
- Loops—the bread and butter of programming. These perform trivial tasks which a human could do, but which would require too much time to do. There are a number of variants, such as the if/then, the do/while and the for loop. Whilst the if/then is an essential condition of logic, other languages operate best using other types (python, for example, is profoundly centred around its use of the for loop to iterate over various lists). Loops are the most powerful aspect of programming, and far from being unintuitive and intimidating, they are based on very simple logic. The genius of computing, and the genius of the programmer’s mind, is the ability to concatenate (that is, string together, or chain) various loops. See the example.
- Functions of the language—think of these like the verbs of programming. These are functions defined not by you, but by the writer of the language. These are ‘reserved’ and cannot be overwritten. Without these functions, there would be little one could do. Simple examples are the print function, which literally prints a string or number to the screen. Another common (but not universal) function is the reverse function. Given a string, the reverse function simply reverses the string. A programmer would then print the result to see the string reversed. Thus: “Hello” reversed would be “olleH”. This is, of course, something you or I could do with ease, but why not let the computer do it for us? Given huge lists of data, the advantages become clear very quickly. — An important note: the following simple example is actually a concatenation of functions. An even more likely thing to do would be to would be to store the reversed string as a variable, and then print that—more on that below. — Included within every programming language is also the ability to perform math operations (+, -, *, /).
- Boolean logic—an off-putting name for something brilliantly simple. In short: is something True or is it False? Profound, indeed: and also key to programming. See the examples below.
Can you blame a man, who
Is able to ingest
His favourite drug
And still impress you?
What, exactly, are the
Of a being so content
That he, “inebriated,”
Moves amongst you—
And yet stands out
For the right reasons?
If you think he doesn’t notice
Every pause and stare,
As his mind triple-double tracks,
He considers you a second species:
He, who, though rarely in sight,
When present, dictates his time and space:
The only thing he cannot control
Are the expressions on his face.
And yet, we know, projections place
Meaning on his features:
To you, perceptive; To him,
You are simple creatures.
Unfolding as sound intentions do,
Can we help but remark
On the remarkable?
Not often enough.
“Selfishness,” with its
Is a religion:
He worships it.
Yet in his rare, but passionate, appeals
To instil the same in you,
There we find the problem:
Ambition is an illness for you.
Your body rejects it:
You pretend, pathetically,
What, then, do you expect?
Focus is his strength;
So in the rejection of his aid,
You dig your social grave.
We return: little yellow pills
Dispense the pleasure.
In these, he finds friendship—
And, ironically, the happiness you crave.
He seeks it not, but finds it there—
Why? Because his life is programmed
Rightly: to write, to inspire;
To warm others by the light of his own fire.
Only then comes pleasure.
—And you? Why talk about it any longer?
Indeed: failure is universal.
But here’s a secret not often admitted:
The temporary failure of successful people
Is more interesting than the inevitable failure
Of those who never try, and hide
Behind their own weakness. Yes:
Failure is a surprise to some—
The bulk of life, for others.