Define Your Own Good by Spencer Lum

I hate it when people look at art and say “I could have done that.” “No,” I think to myself, “You probably could not have.” They couldn’t, because they wouldn’t. They couldn’t, because it’s not a question of skill and ability, it is a question of perception, recognition, and influence. It’s knowing just what the world needed at just the right moment. Foresight comes cheap, once we’ve met the future. But knowing what will work when? That’s something special.

The problem is the truest definition of success won’t come from some argument, from some critic, from you, or from I. Only history will provide the context we need. Sometimes, I think art is just the act of constant effort in the face of near-certain failure. It doesn’t matter whether the effort is ridiculous or sublime. Power goes to those who try. History will tell us what really was ridiculous and sublime.

But if history defines success, then that’s both the curse and the blessing. Greatness is only revealed well after it has happened. It doesn’t matter if you could have done that. You either did or you didn’t. But that’s a blessing, too. In the present, before tomorrow’s greatness becomes yesterday, you define your own good. You might be right, you might be wrong, but your guess is as good as anyone else.

There are days I get up, and I just don’t have anything to go on. The tank is empty, and I don’t even know where to refuel. Some days you just want to survive. Those aren’t the days I regret the most. The days I regret are the ones where I was ready to go, had something to say, and let that get lost in the shuffle. Because art is no different than life. It’s not what you could have done. It’s having that great, inspired day, and finishing it out saying “I did that.”