“Everybody is a genius. but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – – Albert Einstein

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I am not talking about skill, but art that speaks honestly about your experience. Back when I was a student at Berklee College of Music, I was surrounded by musicians from all over the world who had different levels of mastery and perceptions about what “good art” is. Due to my own lack of confidence in what I considered good art, I adopted the aspirations, heroes, perspectives, and representative examples of those who were more skillful than me.

It wasn’t like their answers were wrong. Many of them played at a high level because they were speaking what was true to them, and that kept them with a clear north and motivated to put in their 10,000 hours of work. Though their truth of good art, as much as I tried to mold it in my own being, just didn’t resonate with my own experience.

I was mistakenly approaching art as a unidimensional discipline by adopting others’ views as if art was a clear, step-to-step, linear pathway to some agreed result. It is easy to forget in the academy that the core of the arts is to pursue a personal, creative, and imaginative expression of beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas. In those same lines, living, loving, finding meaning and fulfillment, beauty, and awe belong all to the domain of art. These cannot be taught in their totality. Neither can they be appreciated by our common language of the logical and rational mind.

It has been a slow learning process for me to confront the fear of showing too much of myself as an artist. It struck me as non-negotiable because high-level artistry is the commitment to sharing one’s own consciousness in its different colors, textures, feelings, or expressions without letting the taste of others change it. Do what others believe to be good art, and your audience will taste the lack of authenticity. Even worse, it will always feel empty to you.

This piece of writing is my expression of good art. Not because it is “objectively good” (a pretty difficult task when english is my second language, and I haven’t had a single grammar class in almost a decade). Instead, I consider it good because I am staying loyal to myself by expressing the truth that permits me to make sense of my reality today (in a few years, it will no longer feel the same). Likewise, I am fully aware that a large chunk of people who encounter this piece of writing will criticize it or ignore it because it doesn’t ring any bells to them. That’s ok!

Good art is not the pursuit of what will be well received. Good art is the attempt to bring light to the fog in one’s mind and heart. Fortunately, if it has a solid foundational structure and a little bit of luck, the by-product is that it will impact the minds and hearts of a few more who share my same taste, motivations, despairs, and fears.

It took me several years to appreciate that others cannot answer the questions that keep me awake at night, and one of those is “what is good art?”. Regardless of how proficient you consider yourself in your creative pursuits, I support you in your attempts to keep learning, to stay humble, to welcome the perspectives of others… However, I implore you to never do it at the expense of losing touch with what your soul regards as worthwhile art.

With all love,

Santiago Barragan Noguera

Coach & Educator — Artistic Polymath

Copyright © 2021 Santiago Barragan Noguera. All rights reserved.