I consider myself an artist. A singer. Actor. Writer. I am immersed in a world full of creative people, often egocentric, who see the world through a different set of glasses. I have been thinking about that little three letter word a lot this week. Art. What does it really mean? Most dictionaries associate art with physical objects, tangible representations of some kind that are created with one’s imagination as the instigator. What struck me most, looking at various definitions, was the common association of art with beauty. Without delving deeper into the identity crisis of words and dwelling on the meanings of beauty, I will just say that I am troubled by these two words as cohorts.
In creating art, there are complicated images, emotions, thoughts, and instincts in the artist’s play that are often full of darkness, hope, loneliness, joy, and the plethora of words that can be identified with the human experience. In the theatre, we are taught that our art reflects the world as it is. Yet our world is far from beautiful. It is way more interesting than that.
Artists are often stereotyped as being passive, open-minded, accepting, peace-loving hippies who just need to write, sing, or paint their way through life. Perhaps that is one side of the coin. In reality, as an artist, I am judgmental, opinionated, and aggressive in my attempt to understand the world, or to reflect it through some medium. It is messy. It is sweaty. It is rarely beautiful—maybe more like the reality of dirty, bloody childbirth rather than the glossed-over romantic images associated with it in storybooks. Maybe the truth—the artist’s voice within the medium—is somehow beautiful because it has been born, until it can be judged for its worth, like the rest of us.
In singing, many terms associated with good vocal production revolve around the same word. Beauty. Bel canto or beautiful singing. Yet, as an interpreter of words—of character and situation, singing “beautifully” isn’t always the best choice. Transient singing that comes off the page and fully grabs its audience, is carried by the breath. The wind. It can be brassy, biting, unpredictable…potentially glass shattering. For some, maybe all of those adjectives combined make the singing beautiful. In this case, the mere definition of beauty is in the ear of the listener.
But what about the art?
If I generalize the words too much, beauty loses its sting. Art loses its imaginative resonance. It becomes a politician rather than a bard. I need art. I need beauty. I also need ugly. And I need wind, even when it is not gentle. I need to be an artist. It is who I am. Art is not always beautiful, but it is necessary. It keeps me awake in all the noise.