I’ve noticed that for those of us who did not start out acting at an earlier age seem to struggle more to learn lines. Its like our brains are not as elastic as those who start out as young adults. No actor I know enjoys the process of learning lines – its a means to an end.
One weekend I was visiting a friend and whilst I was there I spent time going over my lines for an up-coming show I was in. He spotted me a few times mumbling words, uncovering the page I was working on and cursing slightly. He watched me do this over and over again until I got the line. Then I started onto the next.
From somewhere outside my line learning misery I heard his voice, “You know if actors put as much work into medicine or engineering as they do into learning lines, they could be really good at engineering, or medicine. Think of how many of the world’s problems could be solved it they put their energy into something like that!”
I stopped. I looked up. I asked him, “What do you do in the evening when you finish work?” He started on with activities like opening the door, having dinner. I cut him off, “I know what you do. You watch movies. You watch television programmes. At the weekend you go the cinema with friends.”
So? “And what do all those things have in common? Actors. And if they didn’t act? What if they didn’t put in the years of study? What if they didn’t do the hard grind of learning lines? What if they all decided to put their energy into medicine or engineering? What would you be doing in the evening?”
He kind of got my point. Kind of.
Anyway there was a subtext to what he was saying. I’ll take his above sentence “Think of how many of the world’s problems could be solved it they put their energy into something like that!” and re-word it.
Think of how useful they could be if they put their energy into something worthwhile!
I could argue that this is an isolated incident. But its not. I come up against this attitude from people all the time. My father regularly asks me “Will you be able to become a teacher with that?” You see there it is. Will you be able to something more worthwhile than what you are doing now? And the crux of that is that doing Art is not worthwhile.
And why? Because the worth from doing art is not as measurable as when you get paid by the hour or by salary. Here are a few more examples. A man at a Cirque du Soleil show remarking on how great the performers were “and all for a hobby”. A mother of a young girl at a workshop telling me she discourages her daughter from following her dream of a becoming a writer “Sure you can’t make a living from that”.
And we don’t help ourselves either. One of the problems is that we don’t value ourselves as artist. When someone gets a job in another sector we say things like “Oh you got a real job” Like what we are doing is not real? And what about what we do is not real? We create real objects, put on real shows, compose real songs, write real stories.
I’ve come on this journey over the last few years. I’ve finally come to a place where I can call myself an artist but it was, and is, a huge struggle. Not only do I have to do battle with “The enemies at the gates of the mind” I have to do battle with friends, family and society. I have to say to them, I do not have to justify my arts practise by doing something more useful, in your eyes.
So here are a few points I’d like to make about artists.
Artists are Entrepreneurs
Yes that is right entrepreneurs. No they don’t create tech start-ups – they work in a much higher risk area than that! They set up music bands, theatre companies, festivals. They put on plays and events that they have no guarantee anyone will like or come to!
Artists are Risk-takers
They invest time and energy into something that they have no guarantee that they will ever see returns from.
Artists are Speculators
Artists often have to invest in materials etc months or years in advance. One friend of mine who is a potter will often have bought the clay for a finished item 18 months in advance of the item even appearing in a shop. (Don’t get me started on the sale or return policy of shops or their 100% mark-up!)
Artists are Philanthropists
Artists spend their time doing a lot of free stuff. For community groups, for their friends and for other artists. And they don’t expect to get anything in return. I cannot count how many times other artists have shared their knowledge and experience with me with no absolutely no financial gain for themselves.
And yes artist’s cannot live on air. We need money to survive like everyone else. My own experience is one of living a different life, of spending less money on things I don’t need. I don’t have a car. I don’t own a house. I don’t buy clothes if I can help it. I don’t dye my hair and I don’t keep up with fashions. This is more philosophical and values-based than simple frugality. I can’t stand to see the waste and damage done by our current linear economic model. Its the same reason I take huge pleasure in composting, seed and plant sharing and re-using items that would otherwise have been land-filled.
The world sends me a message that I can choose to listen to or not. It says if there is not a financial reward for an action than it is not worthwhile. “Time is Money”. Whilst over at The Art of Change-making one of the Knowmads was exploring the idea that “Time is Heart”. I’ve only got one go around on this planet and I don’t want to spend my time justifying my existence to anyone. “Time is Heart” resonates with me and my mission is to live as whole-heartedly as I can.
He who works with his hands is a labourer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.
- St Francis of Assisi
The craft of questions, the craft of stories, the craft of the hands
- all these are the making of something, and that something is soul.
Any time we feed soul, it guarantees increase.
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés