The Art of the Beat-Down
I would like to take this moment to acknowledge one of my more prominent skills. With decades of experience, training, and practice, I have gone from student to master to phenom in this form. Of course, I am referring to the Art of the Beat-Down. Being my harshest critic, thinking I’m a fraud, undermining my own successes. I swear, I’m really good at it! If you are a true master of the Beat-Down, you must never claim to be good at anything! You must tell yourself you are an idiot for making such an amateurish mistake. Then, you must recall all other imbecile episodes and brood on them for 1-5 hours until you are convinced of your vile wretchedness. You still have much to learn!
Self-beatdown often is considered a symptom of being a creative. Something to overcome in the pursuit of creative expression. A misdirection of detail-oriented thinking onto ourselves instead of on our projects.
I think this is the wrong way to look at the potential power of Beat-down. Self-beatdown is not a casual, directionless pursuit. Self-beatdown is it’s own artform. It has rules, and technique, and craft. It’s best practitioners make it look so effortless, after a lifetime of practice. It inspires others to pick up the tools of the Beat-Down and take the journey towards mastery.
If you wish to be a true master of Beat-Down, one must begin with its name. Say beat-down, not beat-up. We must never imply forward or upward progression, even in the direction we choose to attack ourselves. You Beat yourself down or back, never up and ahead.
There is no higher art form to pursue. In what other medium can I find myself immersed at every waking moment? Movies end. Paintings fade. The art of the Beat-Down lasts forever!
Actors get to play pretend, but no play or commercial allows you to play the juiciest, sharpest, most vicious bloodthirsty villain, while also grasping for hope as the darling in distress suffering from the agony of malicious thoughts, while also also playing the hero who saves the day by overcoming that critical villain, for just a few moments.
Woooooo boy, and creatives are the BEST at the self-sabotaging, the doubting, the justifying, the self-denial, the criticism, the self-mockery, the martyrdom, the sacrificing, the suffering, the acceptance of exploitative practices and unfair treatment, the humiliation, the isolation, the judgment, the envy, the insecurity, the...I think I’ve made my point.
Because the art of the Beat-down occurs in our heads. It is the darkside to the creative’s ability to make something out of nothing, to take a blank canvas and create a picture representation of the human experience. Creatives imagine what’s possible and perceive a reality, which they guide others towards seeing. They are sensitive to environmental and emotional stimuli--they feel more, they experience the world around them with a richness--which also means the inner bully has more full for the fire.
“Crybaby!” “You’re doing too much!” “You aren’t very good at this!”
On top of that, since we live in a world where we are not valued, and our work considered unimportant (unless it’s a hobby and you are working a real job too, right?), we can internalize the undervaluing of our purpose and take on an internal negativity that we perceive in the world around us.
I am sure many reading this are experts in this honorable discipline, but I can imagine some of you want to take beating one’s self down internally to a deeper level. Good thing the art of the Beat-Down, like all artforms, is a craft, with technique, rules, customs, and masters. The trade secrets are easy for even beginners to explore and pick up quickly.
BREAKING DOWN THE BEAT-DOWN: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
STRIVE FOR PERFECT AND TIE IT INTO YOUR SELF-WORTH
For an effective Beat-Down to be effective, one must first strive for perfection because it’s the only way you’ll matter. No matter how good your work is, no matter how receptive people are to it, it must always need more work. You must only focus on the mistakes, the errors, the typos, the smudges, the notes sung off-key. All else does not matter. If you are really good at this, no one will even know you are a multidisciplinary artist, because your work will never get further than your house/studio/etc.
You will say to yourself I don’t have enough content, so I’m not doing enough, so I’m not good enough. That’s a good sign! Skillful Beat-Downers will say they should be working harder, since they keep messing up, even though no one will like their work. This means you are on the right path. As long as you keep tinkering away, you’ll never have to face rejection or the external world’s indifference to the project you worked so hard on. The best Beat-downers don’t even think someone might be inspired by their creative expression in other mediums. They don’t acknowledge that there might be an audience receptive to their unique creation. They don’t focus on what physical audiences actually say, they focus on the inner audience of the critics and demons of the past, who are never satisfied with their sacrificial offerings. Take notes, these Beat-Downers have a lot to teach you!
CREATE A COMMUNITY
The best singers have managers, agents, social media marketers--they have a team. Even throughout history, successful artists came in packs: from Brockhampton, Odd Future, and Wu-Tang to the Beatniks, the Dadaists, and Renaissance painters. Any aspiring Beat-Downer should find themselves a collective, as soon as possible. What fun it is to beat yourself down alone? Better to do it amongst friends. But a true Beat-Downer knows that they can go no lower than the least critical person on their team, so look for only the least supportive, least invested people you can find.
Here’s a brief overview of who you should have on your Beat-Down team:
The No Person
A good beat-down artist has someone in their inner circle who reminds them how foolish or impractical their grandest pursuits really are, usually through indirect disapproval. A talented No Person knows how to rationalize and justify inaction and the avoidance of risk-taking, especially when it could be fun. Scared to get on stage? An overeager No Person will tell a story about a cousin who was in a rock band, then died of a overdose, but a truly exceptional No Person will simply say “I could never do that either.”
The Distractor Trying to get focused and motivated on anything other than the Beat-Down? Call your distractor. The person who will tell you about all the harsh truths of the world, likely the current buzz-topic in the outrage zeitgeist of social media (or the news if they are anti-technology). They will invite you out to dinner or to a show or to get a pedicure or to do literally anything that seems fun and keeps you away from your craft. By avoiding your other passions, all you will be left with is the art of the Beat-Down. A great distractor will also be a Beat-Downer, so they will distract you from your beat-down to get involved in theirs, only to allow you to stew in new beat-down energy that will fuel the creative energy of your own!
The Indifferent One
Had a great art show where people bought all your paintings? Run to your indifferent one and tell them. “That’s cool, man,” he’ll say without looking up from his phone.
The critic’s role is obvious. They find flaw and fault in everything around them, with the unspoken agreement that they won’t say anything about you to your face. But if you ever tried to pick yourself up and do awesome things, know they will find something about it you need to “improve” and they will tell you about it as a form of “advice.” Some people do this when they want you to win, the critic is afraid of losing you or wonders why they didn’t win instead.
The Loyal Commisurator
Man life is hard, they will agree. It’s unfair, they will agree. I’m so stupid, they will call themselves stupider. Why did I do that? They will share their most embarrassing story that they still haven’t gotten over. You have problems, theirs are worse! Not only does this invalidate your experience, but it also leads to a spiral, where this person adds to your energy by making you feel guilty or embarrassed or angry that your friends won’t listen to you.
(Editor’s note: A Beat-Down master plays all these roles in their own head very well, often all in the same day.)
HAVE NO GRACE, AND LOTS OF SHAME
A Beat-Down artist is harsh on themselves, knowing a Beat-Down can never be pleasant or gentle. Be rude and nasty to yourself for the smallest, most minor mistakes. Big mistakes? No mercy and forgiveness. Feel embarrassed about incidents that you had no control over, especially situations from childhood. Hold on tight to those feelings when you experience them now. They are 100% true and absolute. Yes you should be ashamed in that, says every great beat-down master, and now I will sit in sadness and feel guilty that I’m eating ice cream because I can never mess up my dieting routine ever because I will never have the body I want!!! And so on and so on. Here are some examples of wording successful beat-down artists use.
I didn’t meet the goal I had set for myself = I’m not good at anything.
I didn’t feel like doing my full morning routine = I’m ugly.
I made a mistake = I’m a mistake.
This project in progress is not yet where I would like it to be = I have no talent, nothing I do is ever good enough.
Learn them well!
UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS AND COMPARISON
Can you identify this Beat-Down master?
I’m going to sell my first novel! I’m going to finish this song today! I’m going to write a classic this month! I’ll work every single day no matter what happens in my life! I have to do more than my favorite artist does! I have to network, and give up my full time job or work as a barista until I make it and I’m not as talented as all my friends are and I’m not working on my craft enough and I can’t dance like that and I’m already 35, there’s no way I can start doing this now, I’ve been doing this for 10 years and haven’t gotten anywhere, this is unfair what’s wrong with me, I hate this and I’m so tired and frustrated and I wish I could afford all those classes and I hate this job and what’s wrong with me, why can’t I just write like I used to, my chances of being successful have already passed, why can’t I stay focused, I’m wasting so much time, I keep spending time with friends when I should be painting, and I checked social media twelve times in the past hour, yeah I was keeping count, how could I be such an idiot!
CONCLUSIONS This is just a brief overview of what’s not possible for you. Beat-Down is an exacting artform, require much commitment and discipline. There’s a lot to learn and remember, and we have only scratched the surface today. My intention is to begin breaking down the tools of the trade, and give you what you need to go off and master this ancient craft, passed down as it has been by generations of humans trying to survive the harshest of conditions. I wish you the worst that you imagine for yourself! May your biggest fears come true!
Brandon “Brando” Rumaker is the Director of Creative Strategies at I AM Series Global. He also facilitates the Artist Circle, where deep thinkers have deep conversation over delicious food, hosts I AM Series signature monthly event, and is the Editor-in-Chief of this blog! Please send all guest contributor inquires to firstname.lastname@example.org