Keeping up with Kincaid: Do I fit the anatomy of the obsessed artist?


Laken Kincaid

Managing Editor, Laken Kincaid, introduces their dear readers to Milo

Laken Kincaid, Managing Editor

“Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go.” – Thomas Leroy (“Black Swan”)

It has been approximately one year since I have written in a journal for either leisure or self care. I know that should seem either erroneous or pathetic coming from the managing editor who breaks their back to push out multiple stories for print. Should words not just flow from my pen like a fountain when alone just as they do as I sit in the newsroom?  Alas, on paper, I am at a loss for words.

Yet, it is not because I lack things to say. Oftentimes, it feels quite the opposite; my mind feels resembles an oiled wheel constantly spinning, consistently churning out thoughts that weave themselves into metaphors. Much like painting or performing, I like to visualize how the paragraphs that I type dance on the page as I tell a story in a way that no one can replicate.

Albeit I know that writing is not considered art in the literal sense. It is not made of colorful ink or crushed flowers swiped on a dry canvas. On the other hand, it still tells a story just like any portrait could (and, with the use of language, it often tells the story better). Where music illustrates emotions through crescendos and key changes with dancers extending the sensation of the chords through their fluid motions, writing describes these feelings in detail while leaving many of the intricacies up to the audience. Sometimes, both literary and aesthetic compositions leave the same impact on their audience despite their varying mediums.

Because of this, I view this makeshift love-hate relationship that I have with writing in the same way that any obsessed artist views their agency of expression: my love stems from my passion for the craft while my hate protrudes from my own perceived incompetence when I do not live up to my own expectations. 

For a while, I did not put myself into this “obsessed artist” paradigm; what I can do in no way compares to hours of practice in a studio or sketching in charcoal for days just to emphasize a minute detail. Even so, I find myself drafting these hard-hitting journalism pieces with a specified ebb and flow while disregarding other things like class assignments or time with friends. 

I first realized this in October, seven months after the last time I picked up my journal. While in a bit of a movie phase, I watched two films that held a mirror to my own behavior: “Black Swan” and “Whiplash.” 

I deeply wish I could say that either my revisitation of “Whiplash” or my initial viewing of “Black Swan” came out of a flight of fancy while perusing through someone’s Letterbox account. Instead, I watched both of these movies because of a video essay on YouTube which discusses exactly what I structured this column to be a commentary on. This short documentary accompanied by both of the aforementioned stories helped shape the idea behind not only this article but a new mindset I have cultivated going forward. 

Both narratives whimsically spin yarns about disgruntled artists who strive for perfection; the overarching theme is that both protagonists want to be the best in their respective passions. They cry, they bleed, they sacrifice everything for their trade. All of their time goes into their end products, so much so that they lose themselves during the journey. What others may see as the epitome of grace or as the peak of performance grit, these maestros only see their flaws. The best way to illustrate this is by discussing a quote from the main antagonist of “Whiplash” who says “there are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job.’”

What originally started out as methods of self expression and as outlets of escape for either performer turns into the main driving force in their lives with the absence of excellence being a death sentence. If one thing goes wrong, all of their strife means nothing.

I hated how much I related to these accounts. As the stereotypical, burnt out gifted kid, perfectionism feels ingrained in my brain. Even if I am still regarded as a great writer or intelligent student, does it mean anything if I am not the best? Sadly, specifically for the heroes in both “Whiplash” and “Black Swan,” the best means eviscerating your old self for the rebirth of a new persona welded to your art. Eat, sleep, perform. Any distractions mean that your focus is lost.

As a reporter, the term “lost focus” resembled how I viewed journaling. Why write for writing’s sake especially when you can create something to be revered? Why jot down your thoughts when you can assemble a work that people come up to you and shake your hand for? The worst part is that my journaling is oftentimes not encapsulated with fantastic soliloquies; it is visceral and sloppy. What at first I categorized as a waste of time ultimately revealed itself to be anxiety towards avoiding the inevitable nature of not being perfect. 

However, that revelation did not sink in. I am still wired to pursue perfection like a plague and some simple epiphany would not alter the chemistry in my mind. On the contrary, what did adjust my patterns of thought was reframing how I perceive perfection to begin with.

To do this, I rewatched the “Black Swan” again. This time, I noticed how the ballet producer discusses his idea of being immaculate. While the main dancer had flawless technique, she was not considered perfect because she was ravaged by trepidation regarding her limitations. Simply put, fighting the concept that no one can be perfect to begin with only made her more imprecise in the end. 

Therefore, I am choosing to believe that perfection is not only achieving a high status but it is not caring that such a status is available to begin with. To be divine, one must disregard the concept of divinity altogether. 

One line from the screenplay of “Black Swan” that resonates with me to this day, although it did not make it to the final film, is from the villain of the movie. During the finale, the daunting mentor looks at the hero of the tale and states that “[dance] lives for now, for this moment only, and this is your moment.”

I suppose that’s what this piece serves as. This is my moment and I continuously waste it by stumbling over words in a leatherbound book that no one will read anyway. This column is not meant to follow a rigid, kebab structure with a lede that attracts readers. It is writing for writings’ sake. It is not meant to be placed into a portfolio or locked in a museum behind cold glass. It is what I consider to be my first step into the world that the true Black Swan lives in, not her poised and vulnerable counterpart. This piece is not meant to be a magnum opus, it is the start of obtaining perfection through letting go.