It’s not easy to create a life in the arts; I think anyone living and working in the arts would agree. So what gives someone the strength to continue to try? What can make the difference between perseverance and giving up? I believe the answer is you. Yes, you, personally and you, anyone. Anyone reading this can be that difference. If you want art in this world, you can be the difference. And you need to make that effort.
I am writing this from the perspective of a choreographer – a modern/post-modern dance choreographer struggling to keep my small company afloat. No… working to keep my company producing relevant, thought-provoking art. Saying we are afloat would be like saying someone is struggling to keep their alcoholism in check; no amount of alcohol abuse is really acceptable and the company never has made enough money to support the artists in any real way.
So… why do it? There are numerous visual artists who were not appreciated in their own times. Years or decades after death, their works are declared masterpieces! That is hardly what I’m hoping for. While a (very) few choreographers live on through the performance of their works after they’ve past on, in every case I can think of, these works were also renowned while the choreographer was living and actually creating the work. Choreography doesn’t live on in the same way as visual art. It also cannot be bought and taken into your living our dining room (in most cases). And even in the resetting of choreographic masterpieces, the work still changes based on the cast and the rehearsal director. As a choreographer, you are only in control of your vision if you are there to oversee the entire process.
*Side note: maybe this is why I am drawn to dance films lately. Then you can control the vision, create the art, then it stays in its realized form for eternity (or at least as long as the digital films remain intact).
Alright, so choreography is a fleeting art. A fleeting art that only a very select few can make a decent living at. (And those few tend to be male, and mostly working in ballet companies.) I’m back to the question of why then? Well, I can only truly answer for myself, but I choreograph because I have something to say. An I believe in what I have to say. I believe that my art is putting a message out into the world that needs to be said. Whether or not people feel this message is worth their $15 and two hours of life to come see, I still believe it needs to be said. I want this to be a part of the world. Art. Dance. People working so hard to make a message come to life through dance. People working to share their art with you – even if you are showing up late, constantly asking for free tickets, and texting throughout the performance.
We still continue on, but not everyone is strong enough to continue on forever. Those moments add up. Those moments when we feel no one supports us add up. Those shows with only 20 people in the audience add up. Those moments of opening our own savings accounts to pay to rent rehearsal space, rent a theater, pay technicians, and pay the dancers add up. For most, eventually, the sum is too great, and we give up. It’s hard to think about all the great art the world is missing out on when these artists give up.
This is why I’m addressing you. You can make a difference. You can support an artist – sure through money, but even more through time and through engagement. Why do I continue? For the couple of people after each show that tell me how moved/touched/excited/saddened they were. I continue because someone new comes to each performance who has never seen anything like what we’re showing before – and they love it. Or maybe they don’t love all of it, but they’re thinking – they’re engaged – and they want to experience more.
So, if you know someone struggling, creating, putting art into the world that just as quickly disappears – tell them you appreciate them. Let the artists know that we need them; the world needs them. The world needs art, whether most of the world knows enough to appreciate it in its own time or not.