It’s been said the difference between mediocrity and achieved greatness hinges on the level of commitment of the person. Consider an artist’s commitment. It can be seen in the excruciatingly long hours put into a project ("Isn’t that done yet?"), the attention to details ("Can you really see a difference?"), the willingness to risk both acceptance and rejection ("Congratu-lations/That’s too bad!"), and the personal investment in the work ("I create because it’s my nature."). For artists, there are seasons of work, and the passing of those seasons can have ramifications on how the artist’s commitment is felt. Like the moon, phases of creative work are real, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to deviate from the cycle. And depending on the literal season of the calendar, an artist’s material affluence can also be affected. For example, there aren’t as many gigs, people aren’t buying, or it’ll be a while before the next audition opportunity.
Sometimes opportunities have to be turned down because of what’s already booked. In the greater cycle of the arts, it tends to take a while for an artist to be able to harvest from what’s been planted and cultivated through faith and commitment. It’s nothing short of commitment that helps to carry artists through dry times.
Sometimes artists find themselves negotiating on behalf of their art. Not just in terms of the adjustment of a price tag on a painting, but trading their lives-their time and energy-on behalf of their art to get the opportunity to be heard, seen, or read by an audience. Compromises are made by artists on behalf of the art that will be allowed to emerge. At times, people forget when working with artists that they aren’t merely purchasing a service or entertainment; they’re purchasing a part of the commitment that motivates the artist to be in the marketplace. Being aware of this helps one to be attuned to why the art exists.
Artists give their heart and soul for their work. Rightfully so. To create art is both joyful and vigorous, whether to paint a canvas, to write or play a concerto for soloist and orchestra, or to dance on stage. To create art requires concentration and focus, bringing all the available resources to bear, and infusing the work with part of the artist’s very life. To inspire-to fill with divine spirit-is central to the full existence of an artwork. It’s part of the process and, eventually, part of the viewing. Without that artist’s commitment, an artwork doesn’t have an air of authenticity; it doesn’t have the right ring to it, and it won’t engage the audience.
There’s a simple two-step exercise we can use to better understand the commitment of an artist. First, find the human element in the artwork. Second, consider the level of commitment: Imagine what you would have to have done to bring forth this artwork for the benefit of those around yourself. Now do this for every artwork that engages you in the next few days. After a while, you’ll begin to see things in new and remarkable ways, and you’ll begin to discern the impact of an artist’s commitment on the work.
Here in central Illinois, we’re fortunate to have such a host of artists practicing among us. Some people may even say we have it all-outstanding musicians, actors, writers, visual artists, and dancers, to name just a few. We have an excellent symphony, opera, dance companies, galleries, museum, theatre companies, and schools that teach about the arts. We have it good, and we must not take our good fortune for granted. If we do, we risk great loss; the sense of quality of what we have can erode, and access and opportunity for expression can diminish. When expression diminishes, so does our humanity, our relationships, and the overall quality of life. Contrary to this, when expression flourishes, so does life. And this is why art is so important to our lives.
If indeed "The purpose of art is to help us be human," as I personally believe, then we risk losing a vital part of ourselves and our society if we don’t engage the arts. People have experienced so much in the past two years, both here in the United States and throughout the world. We do have forerunners, avatars, and healers among us-committed artists who can continue to help us become closer to each other and motivate us to work and achieve greatness. If we fully engage in the arts, we can find support and solace for our anxious selves. Support artists and their work; you will, in turn, support yourself. AA!