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Anyone who works or dabbles in the arts—especially those arts that are meant to serve society such as culinary arts, literature, film, or design—has experienced moments when the pressure to please diverted you from your vision. You create a piece you love, something with originality and truth. Then a critic (official or unofficial)—or maybe several potential agents or publicists who don’t believe they’re looking at the next big seller—tear it apart. “Not for us at this time.” After all, who are you to succeed? What good is a product that doesn’t sell? If the deflation happens early enough in your career, you may walk away or settle for doing whatever brings a paycheck, convinced you simply aren’t good enough to aim higher.
The horror-tinged film THE MENU features just such an artist, a chef played devilishly well by Ralph Fiennes who can manifest both monster and victim simultaneously. The chef has reached the absolute pinnacle of his craft—an elegant restaurant on its own remote island in which he is the unquestioned commander of all the customer sees and tastes from menus made of innovation and meaning. Failure is not a word in his vocabulary. He has risen to near-legendary status with the support of a billionaire who’s delighted with the status he sells at very high prices. Yet the chef has arrived at a saturation point. He feels like he’s owned, although his staff operates on a precise schedule at a hand-clap, obeying him with cultish devotion. He blames his customers, who are ignorant or unappreciative of the nuances of excellent cuisine, for ruining his art. They can’t enjoy his food essays as he wishes they would. The consequences are dire for them all. In fact, in creating a culinary destination, he has lost his joy in cooking.
When your customers have the power to eliminate your creative bliss, you’re no longer working as an artist. You might as well be AI. Writers who write the same story over and over again to delight readers who want to know what they’re reading before they begin may make a good living, but the art is gone. Why do great chefs try new recipes when people like the old ones? Because they feel a need to grow, to prove their technical prowess, to reach out to touch a taste satisfaction they hadn’t explored before. Flashy films that could use the same screenplay with the names, locations, and special effects changed may make money, but they aren’t the expression of human truth film can potentially be. People are encouraged to delight in costumes and fantasy instead of in their own profound reality.
We connect with one another through art. We share experiences. We realize the commonalities of our needs and desires. We celebrate the exquisite potential that we represent. The answer to the question, “Am I good enough?” is yes. If you feel yourself stretching out with your art from your essence to other human beings—to even one human being who benefits deeply, you’re good enough. Don’t quit.