Talking with my daughter, Ruchi, last night about her Bollywood dancing experience. One of her dreams was to be a Bollywood star. But, when you dig that into what that means tonight, she tells me, she is having trouble in her dance class. So much so that after a couple of years of real joy she now feels that the dancing has no meaning for her. She told me she wishes she felt about it today the way she did last year. Hmmm. I am familiar with that feeling.
This is the way of the artist.
Having been a performance artist for many years and still operating from that mindset, and being married to a performing musician, I find myself often in the company of a variety of artists. And I see that they periodically come to a point in their relationship to their chosen art when their energy goes out of it and things become flat. They are usually executing as before but without the spirit.
There are two paths forward when this happens:
One path forward is that your spirit vacates the art and you replace it with other activities that you value. Then your past artistic experience represents a phase of your life, but it does not persist in a continuous way throughout. If the passion is gone, there is no life force to animate it any further. There is nothing wrong with this. We all go through phases. But it can be jarring if you have been doing something what feels like a long time, and then you stop. It’s as if a part of your identity ceases to exist. Sometimes grief is a healthy response. And other times celebration plays an important role!
The second path is that you find a way to relate to your art through your current state. You find a new way to look at it that invests who you are today and reanimates the relationship. This is the evolutionary path. This is a new development. You build on the past and create something that is qualitatively another level – based upon your own evolution.
When we enjoy following a particular artist for a long time, we take delight in this. We enjoy watching and being moved as yet another iteration of artistic development is revealed by someone we have come to know and love, even if at a distance. I heard one of my favorite artists, Frank Zappa, say once in an interview something like (heavy paraphrasing here), ‘All of my songs represent the same thing. Every album I have released is a manifestation of the same essence.’ Well, if you look at Zappa’s output it starts with his early crazy antics with his friends alone in a studio. Then, over the chronological trajectory of his work it becomes complex compositional constructions played with enormous passion that defy any genre and are studied today in some of the greatest musical institutions of our world. So, how could it all be the same? This is an example of an artist who has recommitted and reinvented his art continuously to stay in sync with his evolving development. So, that’s the second path.
Tonight Ruchi is trying to figure out if she will recreate her relationship with Bollywood dancing, or leave it behind. I am hoping she recommits, but either way I am committed to her. The path she chooses to walk is more important to me than which direction she goes. I will follow her wherever she goes and do my best to be by her side supporting her discoveries.
It’s Monday morning. Will you be letting go of the past this week or reinventing yourself? I know I will be doing a bit of both.