Jeremy Côté

Identity, Responsibility, and Failure

I am a physics student, which roughly means I’m someone who writes down a lot of equations and tries to analyze systems in terms of their fundamental constituents. This is a comfortable space for me. I am good at what I do, and I fit in.

The stereotypical science student is not interested in art. That is just not what they do. No one thinks science students are bad for ignoring art, they just accept it as a given in nature. This has helped me for a long time as I have tried to navigate the divide between art and science. It meant that I could mess around with some artistic project without ever seriously committing to it.

If it failed, that was okay. After all, I am a scientist, not an artist. I was off the hook.

The problem though is that the best work comes when you decide that you won’t let yourself off the hook. It comes when you take responsibility for your actions, when you put yourself out there and say, “I made this. It’s important to me. Do you like it?”

This is scary. No, that is not enough. It is terrifying to me. If I put my all into this work and people do not like it, will that mean I am a failure? What will they think of me when I present this work to them?

For so long, I resisted being called an artist. I did not want to be an artist. That was not my identity, and it was so much more fun trying out small projects that did not matter than announcing that I was serious about my work. If I failed, I did not feel bad, since it was not serious.

What I have realized though is that we can make average work, or we can dive deep and make meaningful work. To get to the latter, we need to be honest with ourselves and with others. We have to be comfortable with saying that we make art and that this work is important to us. I am not telling you to adopt an identity (those are tricky). Rather, I am saying that you have to take responsibility if you want to do work that matters to you. Could you fail? Yes, but I think it is a lot more useful to think of it as the work failing. You are just there to see it through. Your whole life is not in this one piece of work, so failure is not lethal.

It took me a long time to embrace the work I do with my writing and drawing as anything other than silly side projects, but I don’t want this to be the case forever. The work I do is important, and I want to give it the chance it deserves. I hope you can do the same as well.