Category Archives: Art

Fear, Itself

It feels like there has been a death in the family.  Someone you care deeply for is gone.  The utter shock and blinding amazement coursed through my body the night of the election.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  After all the progress and strides toward equality and acceptance, I fell asleep election night filled with despair.

I hope I am not alone.  I know I am not alone.  Many of us feel alone.  I am angry to discover after the election, the Trevor Project suicide hotline was flooded with calls from LGBTQ youth; how are we safe?  How do we live in a world with a person like Donald Trump?  Like Mike Pence?  Their very presence normalizes hate, racism, and what now feels like a constant state of fear.

Artists have the unenviable task of creating what is felt; unenviable because often time what is felt is not what we want to experience.  Sometimes we must shed some light in an otherwise dark time.  Let’s bury our heads in the sand; Lord, let me take four-years worth of Xanax and red wine.  Lord, let this cup pass me by.

We could be silent and hope this all goes away.  About a quarter of the country voted for Trump, another quarter (and about million or so more, but who’s counting?) voted for Hillary.  half the country didn’t vote.  If this election taught us anything, it’s that we cannot simply hope for the best.  We cannot bury our heads in the sand and cry, fearing what might be outside ourselves.

Fear, itself is a very powerful thing.  It keeps us from getting out of bed.  It keeps us from writing, dancing, and putting the paint brush on the canvas.  It also motivates us to act in ways we wouldn’t otherwise act, turning our gaze inward.  It makes us paranoid and selfish.  Many people in this country are scared there is not enough; there are latinos for Trump, minorities for Trump.  There are second generation US citizens; their parents, immigrated here and voted for Trump.  They are the good immigrants; these new immigrants need to get out.  They’re different.  We fear what they might be.

Artists struggle with their own fears on a daily basis.  More people fear public speaking than death.  Try walking out on stage, and you will know true fear.  We have to overcome that fear every time we perform.  And now we must overcome the fear that has permeated our culture.

At times of utter despair, artists give hope.  We can tell the stories and perform the work that gives people solace.  We have to speak to the unspoken and give voice to those who feel mute.  It is in art that we can speak up and be a source of inspiration and change.  Art can make people feel things they wouldn’t otherwise feel; it can humanize the ‘other,’ taking away some of the fear of the unknown.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.” He went on to say it is “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed effort to convert retreat into advance.”  We are living in such a time of unreasonable, unjustified fear.

Now is the time to show compassion.  By our example we can show that we are not caricatures or stereotypes.  Not all Mexicans are rapists, not all homosexuals are filled with the devil, and not all women should be in the kitchen.  We can listen to each other and allow the emotions we feel to inform our work and our communion with our community.

Society doesn’t function without art.  You take away the art and you are left with a mob.  Let us not fall into a mob, but rather lift our society up; our society that so desperately needs to know we are not alone.

The Art Of Creation

How do we know the meaning behind a work of art? If there isn’t a meaning behind the art, then does it matter if we give it a meaning?

I often wonder this when I look at a piece of music: did the composer mean to write that? Was he or she simply throwing notes on the page? More often than not, the answer is no, they did have a meaning.

When I hear writers talk about their work, they have a thoroughness of thought and articulation of the meaning behind the work, even if that meaning is randomness. This is why we interpret the work, and appreciate when we can discover the what the artist meant when they created the art.

Secret Of My Success

Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I love that idea of failure leading to success. How do we live our lives with failure?

Many times we don’t win; despite certain potential leaders convincing is that life is all about winning, it rarely is. And I’ve found the lessons are learned in the failures. I feel always succeed, we’re always doing what we know to work.

What happens when we fail? We try a different method, we take a different approach. I’m speaking of the performing arts, but even in science we have a control and variables; when the experiment fails, we see what variables didn’t work. The question remains: what would you try if you were not afraid to fail, or succeed?

Practice Makes Better

It’s easy to say “practice makes perfect.”  We practice something enough, so that makes it perfect.  Not quite.  Practice, and knowing how to practice is more to the point; the truth of the matter is we never achieve perfection.

I cannot count the number of self-proclaimed “perfectionists” I’ve met and worked with.  I’ve heard, “I’m a perfectionist,” not only as an identity, but as an excuse to not continue the work, or to halt the work and start over.  There is not a sense of analysis or deliberation, only the focus on the imperfections.  While maintaining standards is important, I also believe that as creative artists, practicing to make something better is the goal.  Continuing to work at your craft, warts and all, is the goal.

And it’s not just practicing that matters; it’s being able to repeat the successful attempts at a piece of music, or movement.  It’s knowing how to recreate the process on stage in front of an audience.  It’s being able to stand and perform what has been practiced, knowing full well that the practice makes the work better, not perfect.

The Music Is…

It’s easy to think that whatever we learn, everybody else learns the same way.  Likewise, what I know is something you should know, and vice versa, right?  And if you or I don’t know the same thing, then one of us is obviously misinformed.

I used to think that there were certain genres of music that were superior to others.  Classical being better than pop music, rock being better than country, and so on.  It was easy for me, as it was (and is) for other young budding musicians-in-training, to put boxes around what was good music, and what was bad music.  Classical music good, everything else, bad.  Wrong.

As I talked with a colleague about this recently, I was reminded of one common denominator: music is music is music.  The difference, perhaps is in the execution; there are lousy performances of classical music, and amazing performances of country.   Personal preferences aside, if we get hung up on the labels we put on art, on music, we get bogged down with the labels, rather than focusing on the music.  And as working musicians (and often aspiring to work), will attest, keeping an open mind to all types and genres of music will usually benefit in getting the job.

Hard To Hear My Heart

We often take for granted the things that come easily to us.  The certain abilities that for someone else might be a challenge like being good at tennis, or hearing harmonies in a piece of music.  And when we create, it’s easy to ignore the first impulse because we think it’s “stupid,” or “not smart enough.”

Lately I’ve come to realize that the first impulse, that thing that comes easily, is the inner voice.  I talked to another writer about this recently; we both commiserated over our lack of trust in ourselves when it comes to the inner voice.  The music, the words, the intuition that is solely our own, gets tossed aside so that we may endeavor to “be more complex,” and therefore better writers…

Doing what comes naturally is hard; we strive to emulate those who have succeeded in their given craft and aesthetic.  But it is their ability to listen to themselves that helped them get where they wanted to go.  I’m reminded of Maurice Ravel, when asked by George Gershwin for lessons: “Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?”

Back To School 

Many of my colleagues and friends are heading back to the school year.  Back to teaching, or studying; back to the regular schedule of the academic year.  Many of them are music teachers, private instrumental teachers, as well as choral and orchestral teachers.  Teaching arts in the academic setting is it’s own set of challenges; one of the hardest challenges is imparting the discipline needed for the study.

I’ve heard people say that you’re either born with it, or you’re not.  Talent, that is.  You either just wake up and *poof* you are a musician, an actor, a dancer, or you are not.  It doesn’t really work that way.  The discipline needed to pursue studies in the performing arts is comparable to any other serious study.  A teacher recently told me that musicians are the best candidates for the medical field in part because the intense focus is relatable between fields.

Very few artists have the drive, the desire and the discipline to pursue the arts professionally.  However the skills students learn in a piano lesson, or choir, or ballet, translate to other fields.  And I believe it also cultivates our emotional and aesthetic mind, teaching us how to better express ourselves.  And that is something we all keep learning.

Let’s See How Far We’ve Come

Many of us wonder if we’re making any progress in life.  In our work, and in our personal lives, it’s easy to feel stagnant or not see the improvement.

Tracking the progress is important so we can see the steps we’ve taken.  I had a music theory professor who made the assertion that if you don’t feel you’re improving on your instrument, record yourself and listen back to it in six months.  You will listen and realize you have grown.  Perspective can be encouraging, particularly when we are frustrated by what feels like an insurmountable challenge.

Writing about where you are in life and what you are working on helps remind you later on, how far you’ve come.  Recently I picked up a journal I had written in years ago.  It made me laugh out loud at some of the thoughts I had, some of the inconsequential, unimportant, trivial things that were causing me an endless source of stress.  Documenting our progress helps us recall where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.

Make Our Gardens Grow

Anything worth doing takes time.  It also takes hard work.  When we see someone else’s accomplishments, great and small, we hardly if ever see the work and the years behind the accomplishment.

Realizing that a musical, a play, a symphony takes years of preparation.  Even if the work was created quickly in the heat of inspiration, all of the rehearsals, backers’ auditions for money, producers’ meetings, creative consulting, and so on, take a great deal of time.

I spoke with a colleague about our endeavors and he made the observation that sometimes it takes years after a seed is planted to reap the benefits.  As we grow and hold onto the ideas that someday could be great works, we have to remain diligent and patient, knowing it takes time for accomplishments to become fruitful.

The Art Of Making Art

When artists sell their art, does that make them a “sell out”?  Too often I hear the phrase, “you’re  sell out,” or some variation, as though it’s a bad thing.  I cannot count the number of artists who cannot sell what they are creating; we’d all love to be “sell outs” if it were possible.

What does that really mean?  If we sell out our ideals, or philosophies, by getting paid for our work, does that make us “sell outs”?  When I trained classically, there was an attention to the higher efforts of art in music, but not a lot of attention to the realities of artists.  Mozart worked for kings; Haydn was a servant to the Esterházy family.  Are they “sell outs” because they were paid to make music for royalty?

When we look at the world we live in, whether it is a ticket stub, or a grant from a wealthy donor, much of the art we create is dependent upon an outside financial source.  Unless we are independently deathly ourselves, we depend upon the support of benefactors.  That is the reality of making art.