Thursday, February 28, 2008
THE IRONY OF THE ARTIST
(Photo: Keith Dolge; Bellingham Theatre Guild's Production of Oklahoma!)
Life is incredibly ironic. When I was a child, I always wanted to be a famous performer--not necessarily good at my craft (In my childlike way, I naturally assumed I was good, so that was never a worry!), but I was more focused on the "famous" stuff, because that was how I was going to live the life that I dreamed of. Hah! Flash forward thirty years and ask me what I am focused on now...survival.
At times it seems that society only values art as much as it is used to help others gauge our value. We view ourselves as cool or a person to be envied when we own a fabulously expensive or rare painting, or when we manage to score tickets to the latest Broadway show, even if 12 year-olds dancing around naked make us feel uncomfortable. It's strange how we seem to value the arts to this degree and yet artists are the only ones who experience art for the sole purpose of understanding our humanity. Artists are the leaders of thought, and yet they are not able to reap the monetary rewards of that knowledge. It's the "blind and dumb" as I call them "faking it and making it to the top" with a big cashout. Where's the logic in this? Maybe that's changing. With the advent of this "fame epidemic," the term brilliantly ascribed to our state of affairs by American Idol's Simon Cowell a few years back, perhaps there are more "real" artists being born to save our world, which has a cultural infrastructure that is crumbling from the inside out.
I hate to be sentimental about the past, and for God's sake, I'm not THAT old, but I do feel like things have changed drastically in the worlds of art and entertainment in the last twenty years. It's a shame that we now expect less from culture. Maybe that's the machine's way of making sure we don't notice how few "real" artists out there. That way, when someone good does arrive on the scene, we're so starved that the intensity is three times what it would have been if these people had been surrounded by a slew of talented people in the first place. I was at a taping of PBS's "From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall" last night, and there was a fine chamber music group comprised of high schoolers who were from Orange County. In his introduction of them, host Christopher O'Riley said that the group was just like the OC, but with more talent than Mischa Barton. He was absolutely right, though I couldn't believe he'd say that on national television. Thank God for editing, I guess!
In the old days, there were the "artists" and there were the regular folk. Nowadays, with the unfortunate prevalance of reality television, anyone can be a so-called "actor," "entertainer," a "bohemian," etc. I was watching "Celebrity Apprentice" tonight and the producers actually billed Omarosa as a "reality star" below her name during interviews, as if THAT'S something to aspire to. Hey, Omarosa...time called and wants its fifteen minutes of fame back!
I often feel that I missed my calling as a true artist. It would seem that life never made it feasible for me, whether it was a result of choices I made or the Universe made without consulting me. Either way, I'm sad that it didn't happen for me, since I have to have a professional career in another line of work in order to pay the bills. That takes its toll on the creative spirit that lies within me. I used to sing and act, but since I am in New York, and it's competitive even just to do community theatre, I don't do that anymore. My maskmaking, however, helps to get me through the burnout times with my "day job." I started making masks again because I am currently experiencing a great deal of boredom and burnout in my job. Of course, it comes and it goes depending on the type of project I am working on, but there is always a sense now, way more than when I was younger, that I would rather be on a stage or in a studio creating something. So with the masks, I get to channel that creative energy in a positive way that results in something important to me. Creating art can be a community experience and it can be a selfish release. For me, I must confess, it's the latter. That's unfortunate, too, because I do believe that a true artist cares about how other people experience their art. I feel a certain kinship with Frida Kahlo because she painted herself more often than not and didn't really apologize for it. There end the similarities, as my life, in general is filled with goodness and joy, while her life was filled with such great pain and suffering. My views about the purpose of arts are changing, especially the more I see the need for them. Seeing people unknowingly starve for true art has stimulated the desire in me to help bring "the good stuff" to communities and help guide their understanding of themselves and the world around them. Both society and I have a long way to go.