Maybe I’m weird. (Ok, I know I am.) But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of art as a product that we sell. I mean, viscerally uncomfortable. It was suggested to me recently that I find my market and sell to them, and while on one level, I get it, on another level, it makes me queasy.
I don’t want to get all mystical on you – well… ok, actually, I do.
Why did I sing when I was a little girl? A lot of reasons. It felt good in my body. It was pretty. It was fun. I liked the way people responded (singing along, smiling, clapping, crying). I liked telling stories. I liked harmonies. I liked instruments. I liked the kind of people who make music. I liked the way the curtains backstage smelled. I liked make up and costumes and curtain calls. I liked the notes on the page. I liked the conductors and directors and house managers and stage managers. I liked props tables. I liked practice rooms and lessons and pianos. I liked getting better at doing it. I like opening nights and closing nights and all the nights in between. I even liked reviews. Singing, when I was a little girl, made me so happy that I always felt like skipping or spinning when I was singing. I actually had one teacher who told me that I was going to have to learn to stand still while I sing.
And yeah, I want to get paid so that I can devote my time to my art instead of to finding a way to pay the rent.
But selling it? I don’t know…
And I don’t think I’m alone. Most singers I know are not great business people. And most feel very uncomfortable with the idea of marketing themselves or their voices.
But I think there is more to it than a lack of aptitude or business acumen. I think it has to do with the intersection of art and the divine.
The commercialization of art makes it possible and, in fact, likely to put ourselves in the position of critic and judge. If art is something we are consuming, something we sell and buy, we want to assign value to it. And the value comes from us, rather than being intrinsic to the art itself. And I get this, I do. I really do. I mean, I’m an American – free market capitalism and individualism and thatswhatmakesourcountrygreat and all that. But it’s wrong.
Why is it wrong? And this is where I’m going to get all mystical and if that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to click away now. It’s wrong because we have left out connection, which is what art is for. Connection to what? (Didn’t she say she was going to get mystical?) Connection between the artist and God. And from the connection between the artist and God, from the artist to the observer.
Think about the moments when you yourself felt that everything clicked, when you were “in the flow”, when things just seemed to be miraculously happening, almost beyond your will or control. See? You can’t even think about it without using mystical terms – sublime, divine, miracle… And you’re right. God was acting through you to bring whatever you were making into the world. And of course, using your skill and training and technique and ability to make it happen. But still – acting. Through you. And then you in turn offer that as a gift to your audience.
Which means that all the snarky things that people say when they see art as a commodity are not just mean-spirited but wrong. They miss the point. If art is great, our response should be, as Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Allah! Ole!” Thank God. And if not great, you should still thank the artist, for having the courage to show up, to put their souls at the service of the divine and you, whether God chose to take up their particular vessel in that particular moment or not.
And what if you are the artist? Well, then if you happen to be great, you should drop to your knees and thank God for creating the art in you on that moment and allowing you to be the vessel. And if you aren’t great that day, let yourself off the hook. Your job is to train, improve, practice. And show up.
I think we could do with a lot more gratitude and humility, on both sides of the footlights.