The wine was poured, your laugh muscles are exhausted and philosophical discussions are in full swing. One of your friends makes a trivial remark in passing and instantaneously everyone descends into their glasses without speaking until one person articulates what it is on everyone's mind: “What the hell am I doing with my life?” Sound familiar? “Mary's saying yes to her promotion on Snapchat, Luke is venturing the world on Instagram, Sophia is birthing new life on Facebook - #mylifeisbetterthanyours – meanwhile I'm sitting at home in my sweatpants, filling up on I-feel-sorry-for-myself Ben and Jerry's - #solonetflixandchill – and just can't seem to get going.”
We divide our life into two major categories: personal and occupational. So when one goes wrong, we can always depend on the other. Your boss may be a real jerk, but you can look forward to bawling out your frustration at the hockey game. Your boyfriend may have walked out on you, but your scheduled talk for next weeks convention, which you have drilled to perfection, will recoup those self-doubts.
But what if you decide to combine the two? What if you decide to turn your hobby into your profession?
One of the first questions we ask to get to know a person is: „So, what do you do for a living?“ „I'm an actress.“ Now, there are two universal reactions that follow this statement. Number one: „Can you actually live off of that?“ Or number two: „Wow, so am I going to see you in Hollywood soon?“ If your answer is „no“ you are either met with pity or disappointment. The problem with pursuing a career in the arts is that there is no clear path to follow. If you want to become a soldier you join the military. If you go to school for carpentry you become a carpenter. But if you have a Fine Arts degree in dance - where do you go from there? And maybe you never attended a single university course on literature, but you end up writing. It begs the question... what is art? A single black dot on an 80 square inch white wall? A complicated symphony? A 500-year-old story retold in a modern society context? What is the definition of a true artist? A red carpet? Pain and suffering? Attaining fame only after you are six feet under? What does it mean to be professional? Being on time? Making money? Speaking truth through those words on a page, movements in a space or paint on a canvas?
From cave paintings, to ritual dances to theatrical storytelling, art was born with humanity and has grown into a tool with a triple purpose: to express our own emotions, to pass knowledge on to others, as well as to entertain. There is no single definition. But in our obsession to explain everything we have tried to pin it down - and two major contrasting ideas have emerged: the struggling, suffering artist and the successful star. Somewhere along the road of western civilization the idea of art has changed. It has become less about sharing and more about showing off. Less about passion and more about prestige. Less about community and more about competition. That's why we spend the first hour of the Oscars gossiping about who has big enough boobs to pull off what dress and listen to wannabe pop-star-voices trying to out-belt each other in casting shows.
Art reflects on and is a reflection of society and ours has forgotten the beauty of simplicity. Everything has to be big nowadays. The problem with that is that if you try to make things bigger than what they actually are, all you end up doing is fill a void with hot air and you're left with a tiny blimp of art floating beyond your grasp. So instead of focusing on substance, which consequentially does not exist, you have no other choice but to occupy yourself with the surface. I'm not advocating that every modern-day-artwork is superficial. Absolutely not! But it is striking how in the industry many famous actors' faces and bodies are redesigned in post production and how much auto-tune you hear on the radio. Producers and record labels have the final say and they want to (and have to!) sell. So you try to stay away from the present -day market and concentrate on the good old days when art still had meaning. Well that is easier said than done, because you are entering the territory of educated snobbery. Wait, you can't tell the difference between a Renoir and Monet? What do you mean you can't hear if it's Bach or Mozart? And you can't name the 40 authors of the Bible? You don't belong here, pal! Fine! You do your own thing then! Ah, but see, the thing is … what is so special about you? What makes you better than the others? Why should I fund your project if you are a no-name? Go get some followers, become a YouTube influencer and then we can talk!
If you want to survive in today’s world you cannot just be an artist. You also have to be an agent, publicist and marketing manager. It is not sufficient to know and master your craft, but must also be able to promote and sell yourself. Hell, we didn't sign up for art school for this! All we want to do is create. So there, we get ourselves a day job. And not the I'm-waitressing-while-going-to-auditions-struggling-artist-kind-of-day-job! A real 30- to 40-hour employment. And look at that! All of a sudden, we are no longer perceived as artists. We are accountants, teachers or technicians who like to paint, make music or act in our spare time. But the worst part is that we start believing it ourselves. We start to believe that we gave up on our dream, when, in reality, we are looking for ways to make it come true.
Being an artist is an art in and of itself because you have to find your own unique way of doing it. We often mistake perfectionism for professionalism. But by trying to make things perfect, all you do is try to please everybody else and, slowly but surely, you lose track of what it was you were actually trying to say. If we wait for perfection in order to be something we will never be anything. I'm a musician who can't read notes. I'm an actress who hates going to auditions (more on that later). I'm a writer who can't spell and a dancer who can't do turns worth a damn and hardly lift her leg up to 90 degrees.
But no matter what I do, I do it with passion. I love being part of something, performing with other artists and sharing our energy with the audience. I don't care about awards and fame as long as I get the chance to say what I want to say (although I wouldn't say no to the perks of fortune...). You want to be a musician? Be a musician! You want to be a painter? Be a painter! And don't let the source of your main income devalue your work. We can experience happiness yet still feel melancholic. We can walk while drinking coffee. We can be a Mom and a banker at the same time so why can't we be a florist and a dancer?
Coming to that conclusion I ask myself, ‘am I just writing this to convince myself that the path I have chosen, am choosing and will choose is right’? Maybe. But sometimes it's good to remind ourselves that it's okay to take and live by the advice we give others. So, my fellow artists and stuck in “what-the-hell-am-I-doing“ friends, in the end it comes down to this: Look at the kids, the travels and advancements, be happy for your loved ones and move on. Continue following your path. Because chances are Mary, Luke and Sophia are looking at you right now, feeling just as envious. Let people pity and question you. Those are their emotions, not yours, and they have to deal with them, not you! Don't let anyone rush you and don't rush yourself. You do not have to live every day as if it were your last! Have that ice-cream, binge-watch the Nanny and don't find excuses for doing it … just enjoy it. Do everything at your own pace, because if you walk your own path, no one can outrun you.
The only person you spend the entire span of your life with, from the time you wake up in the morning until you go back to bed at night, is you. You are the only one you are truly married and bound to for the sum total of your days. So you had better enjoy it … ‘cause if you don't… who will?