Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Slings and arrows": It's not about us, is it?

There is a very important short scene in the very end of "Slings and arrows", a Canadian TV series about Shakespearean actors. In the video clip I've found on Youtube (see below), it starts at about 5.50 and lasts less than half a minute. It goes like this: 

-- What are we doing here, you and I? 
-- Putting on a play... 
-- Hmm.. Putting on a play... It's not about us, is it? 
-- No. Never was...

It isn't a particularly novel idea, and even within this series it has been hinted at on several earlier occasions. But here it is said directly, and, by this moment, the heroes' personal situations make it particularly poignant and obviously, irrevocably, doubtlessly true: if it is about us, it makes no sense whatsoever (I am being obscure here, in case you haven't seen it and don't want spoilers). 

Anyway, even if the thought isn't novel, it doesn't make it less fundamental and urgently relevant for artists of any medium and any vocation. And, I believe, it's worth repeating and internalizing, because this thought, even if it happens to be one's conscious belief, is so easily lost in the course of day-to-day life. It's just way too easy and natural for any human being to get all wrapped up in the story of their own life, filled as it may be with their particular slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and in which they, themselves, are the major topic and the main character. 

And as for artists? I truly hate any references to "society pressures" which, supposedly, make one do, or even think, one thing instead of another; and yet, the established, common, routine discourse surrounding an artist's life nowadays seems filled to the brim with suggestions that it is, in fact, all about them in one way or another. But this perception is, in fact, a prison, a dead end. I think one reason why it might be so pervasive is that the only alternative seems to be "other people" (audience, critics, collectors, dealers, "market", etc.), which is even more wrong and more limiting.   

But what then? What is it all about? The nearest and most obvious thing within the context of the scene I described above is, of course, the play. But what is truly meant here, I believe, is more general and more universal: we all know, after all, that there are larger-than-life stories going on around us, before us, after us; stories that lend context and meaning to our own stories if we choose so. Every single one of us can choose (or even make) a larger story to weave our lives into; and this story will have its own theme. 

And you know what? When this thought, this larger theme, is really internalized as what your life and your work is about, when you begin to live it, not just to think or believe it, then all the slings and arrows, and thousand natural shocks, and all that: they don't really cease to exist, but they lose much of their significance and of their sting.  

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