I was visiting recently with Dr. T, a fine young physicist, about the challenges of his work.
|2014 Blue River Reclamation 22x28 oil Am I satisfied?|
According to him, it goes like this:
They think about what they want to know. Experiments and measurements are set up. And then they decide if they figured stuff out.
That’s it, in a nutshell.
So, I asked, "When you get your answer…then what? You’re done? Check it off the list and start a new quest?"
With a deep sigh and no small amount of patience, he said:
"We’re never done. Asking a question always leads to more questions. We wonder about A. Which leads to A.1. Which leads to A.1a, or A.2, or whatever combination of trails happen to wander off from the original problem."
"More questions arise from the answers we get," he said. "There’s always another something that needs asking. And answering."
With a sigh he wrapped it up by saying, “We learn to be satisfied with not being satisfied.”
And for just a moment, the vast abyss in my understanding of gravity, E=MC2 and time travel was bridged. I understood physics. Okay, maybe not exactly physics, but I got the part about not being satisfied.
Last year’s paintings were lovely. They’ve been signed, framed and hung so satisfied I was with them. Yet, as I view them today, I see things…questions I should have asked, ideas that needed wondering about. Even last month’s accomplishments, so exciting and purposeful, don’t quite meet the mark today. I’m familiar with a successful artist whose wife no longer allows him to hang his own work in their home. Evidently she’s tired of having him dash away from a dinner party, grab a painting off the wall and disappear with it into his studio, leaving her with guests and the dishes. It’s a satisfaction problem.
In creative endeavors (as well as physics, evidently) to be satisfied is to stop looking. Satisfaction suggests fulfillment, a job well done – or done, anyway. It suggests no need to keep at it, no need to change, or to keep wondering what if.
If we're doing it right, there should always be something else. As frustrating as it can be, it is energizing to allow that itchy little question that asks, what if … what if?
What if I try this?
What if this color …
What if that shape …
Is it enough? Too much?
How about …?
To keep learning and growing, that is how it should be. That’s how discoveries are made and societies are changed. Without a "what if" we wouldn't have light bulbs, telephones, Cubism, Jazz, circus elephants, Impressionism, platform shoes, bungee jumping, or any number of discoveries that have changed the way we see the world. (I didn't say every query into "what-if" had to be successful.) It’s not always pretty or fun or Nobel Prize winning, but it is what drives us to keep at it, to keep learning, to keep dipping that brush in one more time.