One day from now, when I am very old, I will take a look back and reflect upon my life. You will too. I hope that wherever I am, whatever my future looks like, I’ll be able to say that my life and my life’s work was different and not indifferent.
I want to be the 100 year old man who still surprises people, who cares deeply, who lives passionately. If all I can do is shuffle down the hall with my walker– I want to be the one who gets the most enjoyment out of it, to treat it as an adventure, and to surpass the expectations of what might be normal for my age. You see no matter my circumstances, I thrive on being different.
To be fair, indifference creeps up on the best of us and for a variety of very real reasons. It might be economic hardship, the loss of support from a loved one, feelings of loss or disenfranchisement– these experiences are all apart of the human experience and they can change us in profound ways. More often than not, indifference tries to weasel its way into our lives in tiny increments rather than all at once as the result of a singular spectacularly negative experience. This is especially true for performing artists.
Indifference ambivalence, lack of passion, becoming jaded– these are all very similar states of mind. Rather than all at once, these feelings may enter in to our artist minds each time we face an obstacle or challenge that we might not be ready for or we can’t meet. The unwon audition, being passed over for a role or part you knew was perfect for you, the amazing performance concept that you just can’t seem to get people to support– without protecting your inner artist, these encounters can slowly dull your passion and dim your creative spark.
That is why it is so important that you focus on being different, and avoid indifference. In a previous blog post I wrote about sentinels, or so-called authorities who give themselves the power to tell you “No you can’t do that. It’s too different or too radical of an idea to be successful.” If you let the sentinels tell you no too many times, it can be very easy to think that you don’t have good ideas, or that you are delusional to think that your ideas might actually work. After awhile, your plans for an innovative recital, a new interpretation of a standard work, your plan to build your audience base– they can seem like pipe dreams rather than your creative response to situation.
Don’t worry about permission from others. Don’t risk becoming jaded or indifferent to a situation in your artistic work when you have the creative ability to change it. For example, isn’t it better to say “I see audiences at our concerts are really empty– it worries me. Let’s try x,y, and z to fix it. If they don’t work, we can try something else,” rather than to say “Wow. Our audience is really small. (emphatic sigh) That is just the state of the arts. Nobody cares.”
One last point today that I’d like for you to consider. If, as performing artists and performing arts organizations, our whole careers are supposedly about distinguishing ourselves from one another– we spend years becoming the best soprano, the best oboist, the best dancer, the best actress we can be– does it make sense to follow that pursuit doing the same thing everyone else has done for centuries? Or what might happen if you still you used your technical mastery of your art form to do something, well—–different?