I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the performing arts and about the professional lives of artists. From an early age, children are taught to appreciate the arts as an integral part of the fabric of our society. On some level, they recognize that while artistic skill can be cultivated, certain people have a gift which is special and should be recognized and appreciated. Some kids attempt to become a part of that artistic world, only to find that the work involved in developing that skill is more than they want to invest. Others find that the joy of creating art overshadows the effort required to bring it to life; they find encouragement, success, and fulfillment.
And yet, somewhere down the line, we as a collective society decide it’s not worth even a few dollars to experience a live performance, or an art show, or a film screening. We decide that if art isn’t cheap–or better yet, free–we want no part of it.
How does this happen?
Having been a performer myself, and currently working to connect artists and audiences, I find the current state of entertainment disheartening to say the least. A person can make a decent living doing fairly simple tasks in someone else’s office or school or home–tasks which are easily learned and easily duplicated–but artists and performers often feel they must save their gifts for their “hobby” (AKA something they do when they’re not working that “more important” job). Or, in an attempt to earn an actual living applying these gifts, they take their skills in music or art and apply them to writing jingles or designing billboards to help sell stuff to people who may or may not need it.
What happened to art for art’s sake? What happened to giving artistic expression its due importance as a driving force in the evolution of society? What happened to experiencing a work of art and acknowledging the time, effort, and skill it took to create?
Now, you may find yourself asking, “what does this have to do with magic?” The answer is: everything. Just as in any other art form, magic is truly designed to make you think. It may elevate your emotions, it may help you connect with other people, it may even inspire you–and yes, it makes you think. Just as a painting does. Just as a symphony does. Just as a film does. It’s just a bit sneaky about it. After all, we know that when we watch a cup and ball routine, something is happening that can probably be explained. We may choose to be carried away by the possibility that the foam balls seem to appear and disappear in an impossible way, or we may allow ourselves to look more closely and see if we can pinpoint the moment when our eyes deceive us into seeing something that isn’t there. It’s such a simple thing, yet it can open our eyes to so much more.
It’s not my intention to “oversell” the art of magic, or misrepresent it as more than what it is. However, so often I see hard-working performers of various disciplines publicly devalued by an audience that seems to only care about the cost to themselves. I’ve attended brilliant performances that were sparsely attended because of a ticket price that was seen as too high. I’ve watched people walk away from a gorgeous piece of artwork for sale because they thought the artist was asking for too much money. Arts organizations find themselves practically begging for donations just to survive, when we as a community should realize that we would not survive and thrive without them. I find myself longing for a time centuries past, when artists were revered for their work and respected for the discipline of its creation.
But that’s not where we live. Longing for a time past means nothing without bringing those ideas forward into the present.
So here’s my suggestion: remember how you looked at art as a kid. Believe that it is within your grasp to embrace it, to understand it, and even to create it. Then go see a film, watch a stage show, hear a concert–and know that the people involved in creating that experience are giving you a part of themselves, a part that demanded countless hours of thought, effort, and creativity. Respect their talents by not demanding them for free. Artists have as much of a right to earn a decent living through their strengths as you do through yours. And when you encounter someone special, someone who speaks to you in a real and perhaps unexpected way…thank them.
And then tell someone else about them.