By Ilona Goin
Light Source, July 2011
When you work in the creative arts fields you meet a variety of people. Within any one of the art forms, they can be sensitive, thoughtful, flamboyant, or real characters. At times they can also be things less charitably described. Fortunately, thanks to a divine factor that seeks to balance the scales of life in favor of civilization, artists can also be lovely people and wonderful talents.
Some are all about expressing new ideas, and are therefore entirely comfortable with change. Throw them a curve ball, and they’ll catch it with delight. Put a barrier in their way, and they’ll just climb up on it to reach a better vantage point. Whatever obstacles they face, they see them as puzzles to solve. These are people with such powerful imaginations that they can handle anything—and they will enjoy the challenge to boot. Nicely embracing both the left and right sides of the brain, they are either creatives with a business sense or artistic entrepreneurs.
Among the folks who like change are also those who live today as if there were no tomorrow. They are so “in the moment” that the idea of planning is beyond them. It’s a good thing that they are in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, because their methods aren’t suited to achieving goals. You can always have too much of a good thing, and too much flexibility becomes a lack of structure. Jellyfish may have survived a long time as a species, but they are nowhere near the top of the food chain.
Artists can also be rigid. Far from nimble, they resemble a turtle stuck with living in a hard shell. It leaves them slow to adjust to change, with a large turning radius. Oddly enough, those with the most inflexible approach to life —a decided weakness in evolutionary terms—are also most prone to being excessively sure of themselves. This applies especially to the intellectual types, whose tendency toward a clinical mind and stubborn pride can lead to an inflated sense of their own talent and importance.
The most tedious ones are those who have exceptional talent, know it, and make sure you know it too.
They lack gratitude for the talents they have been granted, and for the opportunities they will be offered as a result of their exceptional abilities. A sense of entitlement tarnishes the aura of beauty that accompanies their talent. Humility, on the other hand, has a beauty all its own that enhances any creative work. Ego and art will never yield the best result. Heart and art always does.
When I began performing classical works with a choir at venues in Oslo, it brought me into contact with a variety of performers. There were fellow music students with stunning operatic voices and bright futures on the Continent, professional soloists from the Norwegian Opera, and the members of fully stocked orchestras.
From the conductors and string sections to the soloists, there were enough superiority complexes on display to fill a doctoral dissertation. Among the many observations I made about human nature in those days was that not all brilliant people have an equal measure of heart, not all talented people have a talent for common sense and courtesy, and not all divas are female.
But look beyond the personalities and the drama surrounding artistes, and you will find a large number of hard-working musicians and artists—people who love what they do enough to practice and rehearse six hours a day with the focus and dedication of a top-level athlete. They are too busy learning a new symphony, preparing for the night’s performance, or maybe taking care of house and kids to have time to fluff up their feathers and prance around like peacocks. Creatives have families too. People with talent still have to work at it. In fact, even divas sometimes have to take out the garbage.
Not surprisingly, the members of an audience also come in every shape, shade, or flavor. Creatives whose work is presented to the public develop a sixth sense about people: they know when to shake hands and when to turn tail. It’s a mixed bag out there in the hall, as it is on stage.
What looks glamorous at 8:00 PM—at a hundred yards, in dimmed lights, when people are dressed in their fineries and are putting out a vibe of exclusivity—may have appeared otherwise in the 2:00 PM rehearsal.
Then, dressed in jeans, with unkempt hair, carrying their mercurial temperaments on their sleeves, they projected a confused mix of insecurity and ego, angst and professionalism. Life behind the curtains, in rehearsal rooms, and in back hallways reveals the cracks just beneath the gleaming coat of performance paint. As it turns out, people are people everywhere, with all that being human entails.
And then, well above the field of human frailty, we come to the true value of the arts: to uplift the individual’s spirit and help him see the wonders of life—the richly textured, vast realm that runs all the way from Earth to God. Shakespeare pointed the way in Hamlet when he wrote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
There are indeed, and it is in this region beyond philosophy and human knowledge that we find the origin of creative ideas. Shakespeare was speaking of Hamlet’s visitation by his father’s ghost, but he might as well have been referring to the visitation upon the artist by the Holy Ghost, the bringer of inspiration. Farther back in time yet, in a world where every aspect of life had its own deity, the ancients called the source of inspiration muses.
They were right in one respect: we do not create things of beauty all by ourselves. Instead, we give form to the beauty the Creator has already made. It is part of the Creator’s gift to the created that we be allowed to glimpse the Creator’s inventions through the right use of imagination. Accurately perceived, an artist is more a worshipper, practitioner, and guardian of the art and science of divine inspiration. He is bowing to the creative powers that flow from above, not a demi-god descended to bestow upon mere mortals his special gift. To artists who believe themselves to be in the latter category, we might be tempted to offer return tickets to Mount Olympus.
Those who discount a divinity often do so because they don’t wish to relinquish power over the act of creation. As long as they can claim to have come up with it on their own, they feel free to grant themselves the stature of genius. Were they to acknowledge that a Creator thought of it first and merely offered them the ideas out of a sense of bounty and charity, the genius would have to embrace both humility and gratitude, qualities of wisdom that will never find a seat in a room run by ego.
The “behold the fruits of my genius” artist has too much to prove for his art to reflect anything but himself.
It could be argued that his work is not art at all, it is merely an ongoing self-portrait—with the emphasis on self. Unless you’re an aging and renowned Da Vinci or Rembrandt, nobody cares.
What we demand of an artist is something more interesting, more relevant to our lives. We want artists to show us something that will lift our gaze to the heavens and grant us some understanding about life. So we say, Give us a compass and a map for the journey. Give us high art.
It doesn’t take a three-hour opera or a European “art” film (isn’t that term just a dead give-away of the emperor’s new clothes on display?) to be high art. It only takes high intentions. A lofty vision and an exalted objective will do more to imbue creative work with transformational power than cool stage sets or a big budget.
As the Beatles once sang, “Money can’t buy me love.” What puts the magical sparkle into a piece of art or music is a genuine love for the art form; a desire to serve the audience’s highest needs; and a profound appreciation for life itself.
You don’t have to be religious or spiritually inclined to get out of the way and let a higher principle speak through your work, but it helps. Still, even that is no guarantee. The best recipe is neither a believing nor a disbelieving mind but simply a loving heart. Whether it’s a plain, carved wood bowl or a fancy oil painting, what elevates the piece is the love, care, and refined vision of the maker.
© 2011 Ilona Goin. All rights reserved.