On Working in the Arts: an open letter to my students

"What's the point of learning how to play the piano if there are so many people who already do it? What are the chances of ever becoming a professional musician anyway?"

The more I teach, the more my students continue to surprise me with their strengths, their triumphs, and their ingenuity. Every once in a while, though, I get questions like the one above that really stop me in my tracks. Because it's so serious. Because it's a mark of doubt and possibly hurt. And because it's a question that I continually ask myself.

Working in the arts is enjoyable to be sure, but it is no picnic. Actually, I take that back. Working in the arts is exactly like a picnic. See, when people think of a picnic, they think of the event itself: the sunny day, the blossoming park or the seaside, the basket full of goodies laid out on a blanket spread on the velvety grass or sand, people gathered together and sharing fellowship through good food and lively conversation or games. So too it is with art: we think of the beautiful painting, the graceful dancers, the nimble-fingered pianist, the larger-than-life musical.

In order to have a picnic, though, you have to do countless things before you get to the event itself. You have to communicate with friends or family your desire for such an outing. You have to choose a day that works with everyone's schedules, or find one that works the most across the board. You should probably check the weather forecast to see if your chosen day actually works or if you need to go back to the drawing board. Food? Always. What will you have? Who's bringing it? If you are you need to cut up vegetables, wash the fruit, prepare the sandwiches, make the lemonade. You need to pack everything in a bag or basket or both or several, all the while taking stock of what type of transportation you will be taking to get to the park or the beach or a clearing in the woods. Car? Take whatever you want, unless you have to walk far from where you're parking. Is there parking? Bike? Less stuff. Activities? Let's just keep it simple. Oh, but the kids are coming and will need to be occupied...

In other words, your one event looks a lot like this:

It's my favourite image documenting what happens with every piece of art, whether you're painting, acting, or playing piano. So much blood, sweat, and tears goes into each artwork but we generally only see the little bit poking from the water, that enjoyable, sparkly, "finished product" bit. And as soon as we're done with one we're immediately off to the next project, the next piece, the next painting. It's exhausting work. Sometimes tedious. Definitely frustrating a lot of the time. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

I've tried to convince myself before that I really wasn't cut out for the arts world. I mean, it's incredibly unstable and none of my friends understand, and I'm not even that good anyway so I should just quit while I'm ahead. Besides, I should really focus on what God wants me to do and working in theatre just isn't good enough. But the more I tried to convince myself of this way of thinking and live in this way, the more unhappy I became. Why? I wasn't actually doing what I now believe I'm supposed to. Theatre is my calling, my passion, my God-given vocation. If this is what I'm supposed to do then I'll do it, no matter how hard, no matter how I flounder, no matter how many other people are striving to do the same thing I am. Because it's what I'm meant to do. Period. Finito. Skinchyla.

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or it should be, anyway), that talent only gets you part of the way. Perseverence is what gets you to home plate. Or to the finished picture. Or to opening night. Or to the end of a concerto. I still struggle to believe that day-to-day and have to constantly remind myself of why I chose theatre over orthodontestry at 15 (everyone who's ever known me would laugh at this point). Being surrounded by people who support me in my artistic ventures help a tonne as I struggle to plan my classes, learn my music, prepare for the two auditions I have coming up, and decypher orchestrations that currently seem to make no sense. And I've got God. Thank goodness.

Have I answered the question? I'm not sure I have. Honestly, I don't know if I can. All I know is that this feels right. Working in the arts and continually striving to grow in my craft feels right. As long as it feels right I've got to keep doing it. I mean, why would you want to go through life feeling wrong?

Joyanne :D