I found them in my grandmother’s little cottage–beautiful sketches, drawn by a talented artist. They were drawn with great detail, using multi-colored pencils. ‘Where did you find these?’ I had asked, thinking she’d bought them at an art museum in the city. “Your dad drew them.” My dad? An unknown genius?
Yes, my dad was a talented artist and no one knew that except my grandmother, and now me. My grandmother passed away as did my dad, so now I’m the sole survivor, the last in the world to know of my father’s greatness. (Of course, my dad was great in many other ways too.) And the world will never, ever know about my dad’s talent because the sketches he drew died along with all my grandmother’s belongings, hastily divided by my highly dysfunctional family who aren’t capable of love, not even loving themselves. (They later argued with each other over who should take what from my grandmother’s leftovers. Mind you, my family is poor, so these were not items worth a great deal of money.)
Lost talent, lost art. Like a lost love, it hovers over our society like the broken heart we never new. And that’s the subject of this blog. There are probably millions, perhaps billions or trillions of lost talents scattered all over the world. Who knows what talents lie dormant in the children starving in the African deserts or the poor inner-city kids who get involved in street gangs and drug dealing and end up in jail or dead before they reach 25. How many of them were meant to be painters, dancers, actors, or great scientists, like Marie Curie who fled her native Poland (where women didn’t have the right to go to college) to obtain her education in France. Marie was lucky. She had the support of her family who helped her take that tremendous risk of leaving her homeland. (Oops, did I just use the word “homeland”?)
But how many women, lacking support from loved ones, were forced to remain in Poland where they could never attend college and, therefore, never pursue careers in medicine or science that required a college education. How much talent went wasted away? How many of those women became frustrated and despondent? How many committed suicide? Or turned to alcohol or drugs? Or became abusive to their husbands and children? What happens to undiscovered, uncultivated genius living in a society that holds it back, prevents it from contributing, from flowering into the magical, wonderful greatness of a discovery or work of art or cure? Where does that dormant genius go?
I myself gave up playing guitar because I thought I wasn’t any good at it. People weren’t encouraging me and telling me I was good at it, but even if they were–and this is very important, so please put down your short attention spans for a moment and read and re-read this very carefully–I just didn’t think that playing guitar was a practical thing to do. I kept running away from my creativity because here in the US (as in many countries around the world) if you weren’t born into a wealthy family you really don’t have the freedom to be an artist. It’s nearly impossible to earn a living in the arts unless you were born with money and connections in the first place.
People say you must “pay your dues.” But most grocery stores won’t give you free food just because they think you’re a great guitarist, painter, writer or actor. And that’s a sad reality every artist no matter how talented or motivated must face in today’s aristocratic world. And if you end up homeless, your guitar and your paintbrushes can get stolen or smashed. Even if you find a way to keep your artistic supplies, where will you find a quiet place on the street to practice your art? Artists appreciate and are inspired by beauty and there certainly isn’t much of that on most urban streets or homeless shelters.
I suppose that’s why many American schools just don’t bother to teach the arts (especially music) anymore. Where is the practical, monetary value? Money is everything here in the USA. If you don’t get paid in money for the things that you do than your accomplishments mean nothing. That’s why welfare mothers are forced to “work” at paying jobs. The work they do of raising their children means little to this society. So their children grow up motherless as well as fatherless. Often they get into trouble and flunk out of school. But their mothers are working at paying jobs, so our society is satisfied.
There are still a few of us who understand the importance of the arts and would like for our society to be more egalitarian. But we are few and far between here in the States. Placing value on the arts is in itself a lost art. As artists, we are losing this struggle to be rewarded for “paying our dues.”
But what our society doesn’t get is that it is also losing. We need the arts. We need entertainment, beauty and joy. We need to be reminded to think “outside the box,” to see the world to which we’ve become accustomed in a different way, to be pushed out of our complacency and into a new world of imagination and dreams. The arts are a form of healing. A good comedian, favorite song or even a well-crafted cartoon can make us laugh in our darkest moments. Art can reach the autistic, the mute, those whose senses are numbed. I once visited a friend in the hospital and watched in amazement as a mentally disabled child, unable to communicate with anyone, moved to the sound of music playing on a nearby radio. She talked to no one but she felt the music and in some way the musicians had reached her. Some therapists use the arts to heal the disabled for this very reason. The arts can help us all–disabled or not–to find that which we’ve lost within ourselves. Your heart’s just been broken and then you hear Adele sing, “Never mind, I’ll find someone else like you…” and suddenly you realize that you’re not alone. Her heart has also been broken. She may be rich and famous and a lot luckier in life than you but she too has been hurt. As humans, we like to know that we’re not alone. So a singer/songwriter tells us of his/her own heartbreak and we feel better about our own. We didn’t know the pain was there but it was deep down inside us all along, and that’s why the song makes us cry.
“If you want to view paradise,
Simply look around and view it,
Anything you want to, do it.
Wanta change the world?
There’s nothing to it.
There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination.
You’ll be free,
If you truly wish to be…” (“Pure Imagination” from ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’)
If you’re wondering why there are so many problems today in this world, take a look at what is happening to the arts. Dictators always want to control and subdue the arts.
Why? Because the arts make us think. And thinking, using our imagination, challenging ourselves to look, look again then re-look, develops our mind. The pharmaceutical industry wants us to believe that our brain chemistry can be “corrected” with all sorts of de-depressing medicines. But in reality, we can alter our brain chemistry with art.
Read a book, analyze the contours, the texture, the blends of color, the topics presented of a great painting, imitate the gestures and speech of a great actor, memorize a poem and analyze its meter, word choice and message, learn to play a musical instrument that you love the sound of–whether or not you are “good” at it, dance as if no one is watching, live like today is your last! And your mind will grow. And your brain chemistry will change. You will be completely de-televised. (Watching television will alter your brain chemistry too, but not in a “good” way…)
As I mentioned earlier, I too had given up playing guitar. Though I still owned a guitar and strummed it now and then, I was not musically-inclined as I was convinced I couldn’t really play the darn thing. One day, I knocked on the door of a theater and asked them if they needed any more actors (yes, I do crazy things like that.) Turns out the theatre was owned by a very nice man who still believed in mentoring actors, regardless of their financial and “connected” status. He invited me–a perfect stranger–in to talk. They were putting on a modern vaudeville show, he told me. There would be a variety of performers, some dancers, perhaps a juggler, a comedian, a magician, musicians, etc. Did I do anything besides act, the theatre director wanted to know. ‘We have too many actors already,’ he explained. Well, acting was what I wanted to do, really, really wanted to do…but I did play a little guitar.
‘Well, bring it in! We want to hear you.’
And that’s all I needed to hear. I went home and picked up that guitar again. I really wasn’t very good, so I thought. But maybe I could play a few classical pieces. I returned to the theatre on the designated audition day and played for the director. He was, surprisingly, impressed. “We’re going to get you a Renaissance gown,” he said. “We’re opening the show with you.”
So I wore this long, Shakespearean gown. It really was a magical moment, me dressed like the Renaissance, leading the show (until some of the other performers grew resentful and I was bumped forward out of my lead spot.) I didn’t even think I could play guitar well, so I was puzzled rather than upset about my demotion. I wonder to this day where the jealousy came from. “You’re better than all of us,” one of the other performers said ruefully when she heard me play. I sensed her sadness and almost apologized for being good.
I’m sorry, sorry for being good. Sorry if my being good at something makes you feel bad. Really. But, honestly, why can’t you feel good about yourself without me? Why do I have to feel bad about myself in order for you to feel good about yourself?
But in fact, this really was a wondrous moment for me. This kind man who ran the theatre had, unbeknownst to him, started a revolution–in my soul. I began to believe that I could play guitar. Who would have thought it? I forced myself to play at open mics (a painful process, as I suffered from extreme social anxiety and stage fright. Somehow playing guitar in front of people was different from reciting scripted dialogue as an actor.) But I got over the fright because people kept telling me what a good guitarist I was. Now I perform all the time. Not because I like playing guitar but because other people like hearing me play guitar, and I actually enjoy playing guitar in front of people now.
Point is, we are not rugged individuals. No man (or woman) lives on an island, as the saying goes. We are influenced by the people around us, for better or worse. When everyone around you tells you that you’re terrible, you’ll start to think that you are terrible until someone comes along and tells you you’re great. Yes, you might doubt the critics somewhere deep, down inside. Yes, you might recite platitudes and affirmations to yourself daily, look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, “I’m great!” But until someone else comes along to love you, well, I’m sorry, but you really aren’t going to feel so great.
I realize this defies everything Americans believe. A lot of people don’t want to hear this. You might turn the page, as it were, by clicking to another web site across the top of your computer screen. How dare I say something so self-defeating? How dare I suggest we need other people? I don’t need anyone but me, the average American will defiantly assert. Some American psychologists will concur. Perhaps they’ll read this blog and psychoanalyze me. She suffers from —XYZ— Disorder. Yes, that is clear. She seems to think she needs other people. What the BLEEP is wrong with this blog writer?
Well, yes, there is something terribly wrong with me, and, yes, I refuse to take any medication or get any therapy for it. My diagnosis is this:
And as such, as a human, I have a need for other humans. I need touch, I need the sound of someone else’s voice. I need to be heard. (That’s why I maintain this blog.) I like knowing there are others (not too many but a few) out there who think as I do. I like knowing I’m not the only human in this dark, increasingly menacing world. And yes, I need approval. It does feel good for me to know that someone likes what I have to say or is interested in reading what I’ve written.
Yes, yes, oh yes! I admit it wholeheartedly, I am human! Hear me roar!
Sorry that I won’t take the pill, drink the koolaid, watch the bad television or otherwise maintain the status quo. I just refuse to be controlled, brainwashed or turned into that other species I often encounter on the streets of the poor city where I currently live. I may be heartbroken to see some of the changes I’m being forced to see in what was once a great country, a place where I once felt lucky to be, but I will not be spirit-broken, and I am firmly resolved to be like the young man who:
“drop by drop, squeezes the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes up one day to find the blood of a real human being–not a slave’s–coursing through his veins…” (Anton P. Chekov)
It’s a painful process and really quite lonely (ironically) sometimes, but I highly recommend it to any lost or losing soul out there. Do you feel really quite alone? Different from anyone else? No one to whom you can relate? Here’s something to learn: You won’t be less alone by conforming and trying to make everyone your friend. When you try to get other people to like you by becoming what they want you to be you’ll find yourself one day very detached from yourself and very unhappy but unable to determine why. Why are you so unhappy? Because you aren’t really you. You have become what you thought other people wanted you to be. And so you attract more and more of those people who secretly don’t love you, not the real you, into your life.
Because you aren’t being you, not the real you. Those who love you as you really are and were meant to be–the real you– don’t know you because you’re hiding behind this facade. They see you and are turned away by this false persona.
Understand? (Am I being perfectly clear? Absolutely not! Oh pop psychologists would have a field day with this blog. Hope no American psychologists are reading this now.)
Point is, being yourself seems so difficult, but really it is quite easy. It only feels difficult to us when we’re surrounded by critics who don’t like us the way we are and who keep trying to make us change. We know they won’t like us for who we really are. We see the rejection coming. The challenge is to trust that “our people” are out there somewhere and to just take the plunge. Dive in. Be you. Not tomorrow or next week but NOW. Sure everyone around you might dislike it. But (as long as you’re not hurting anyone else) this is your only chance to really live.
How is all this related to lost talent, lost art?
(My intention was to write about lost talent and lost art, how our aristocratic society rewards a wealthy (and lucky) few for their talents and gifts but prevents everyone else from achieving their potential and, as usual, I seem to digress. Ah, but things are not always as they seem…)
Art enables us to be ourselves in spite of ourselves. Our inner censor tells us not to smile but we can’t help but smile when our favorite comedian tells that joke a certain way. We try to come across as refined and restrained but we can’t help but move our bodies in all sorts of exotic ways when our favorite music is blaring on the radio. We might even find ourselves singing out loud! Inappropriate indeed! Art heals the wounds in our souls, the wounds that make us retreat, retire, and hide our true nature from our censorious society. Art frees us to enter that world of “pure imagination,” to explore other ways of thinking, self-expressing and doing, if only for a few seconds at a time.
Our favorite poems, songs, paintings, films, etc., reveal a lot about us and our true nature. And we can learn so much about ourselves by simply making a list of our favorite art forms and artists. Art is healing and empowering to the people as it is influential over the people.
Disdain for the arts is one of the early warning signs of fascism, and artists around the world are persecuted by disapproving dictators. They understand the power of art and seek to remove or at least control it.
When we allow the arts and artists to be unsupported we allow our own freedom and initiative to be unsupportive–the freedom to be our own unique selves, to tap into that suppressed self, to heal, to entertain, to enter “pure imagination” where anything is possible–even changing the world.
“Wanta change the world?
There’s nothing to it…” Willy Wonka