Sunday, March 7, 2010

Art and bravery

Last night, my friend, Eric, gave a singing recital to raise money for the March of Dimes, where his wife (and also my friend), Anna Bess, works. Eric sang a broad range of songs that he divided into four groups. The show ran an hour and a half, and I very much enjoyed it. Though most of Eric's selections were fun songs, he included one dark piece that I had heard him perform before but still was very happy to hear again: Steinman's "Confessions of a Vampire," from the failed Broadway show, Dance of the Vampires. This song is very emotional and required more acting, and thus more risk, from Eric than any of others. There he was, up on stage in front of a crowd of sixty or more people, exposed and singing his heart out. Both this performance and the show as a whole led to an after-show conversation about the bravery it takes to show one's art.

I have very mixed feelings on this topic. On the one hand, showing art of any type does feel brave. After all, you can pour yourself into a work--a song, a painting, an art ball, a novel, whatever--let someone see it, and watch as they reject it or hate it or simply pass right by it. Those reactions hurt. Worse, no matter how good you are, you can be sure that some percentage of the audience will hate your work.

On the other hand, when I think of my art, writing, as a job I have willingly undertaken, or as a compulsion I must indulge, or both, then my feelings turn rather less sympathetic. If you choose to do art, you know what you're getting into, so ranger up and get to it. I've been an unskilled construction worker, and I've had a foreman tell me to move the same big hole (a six-foot cube of earth) multiple times, and that audience reaction certainly caused me pain, though in my body and in my frustration, not in my heart.

I also have the problem that I resist making artists of any type special. When I was a boy, I knew a master furniture maker, a guy over seventy who had been building furniture by hand since his teens. He'd never finished high school. If you called him an artist, he'd box your ears. He viewed himself as a craftsman, someone who showed up and did his job, day in and day out for a lifetime--but who did so with the utter dedication to craft that he strongly felt all of us owed our jobs. Yet his furniture was art, as beautiful and as full of his heart as any book or symphony. I've also seen programmers and builders and people of many professions who poured themselves into their work and who thus made that work their art.

In the end, I came to this conclusion: If you truly love doing something, if you give it your heart and make it the best you can, if you put all of yourself into it, then it becomes art, and showing it to others is both a compulsion and, yes, an act of bravery.

Thanks, Eric, for sharing your art last night and for being brave.


Eric said...

Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind words more than I can say.

It may be possible to write a great novel, put it on the shelf, and be content with a job well done. I'm not a writer and I wouldn't know. However, the audience is an integral part of the performance. All my efforts are essentially incomplete unless I do show what I've done. And yes, it can be terrifying. However, all I can do is prepare, do my best, respond honestly to the what happens, and accept the result without whining or undue ego.

Like you, I don't think artists are special. Like athletes, we work hard, gain skill in a particular area, and hope to be lucky enough to accomplish something worthwhile.

Thanks again for coming and all your support through the years.

Mark said...

You're most welcome.

J. Griffin Barber said...

Here! Here!


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