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Art and One Reckless Traveller’s Journey to Grasp it

October 21, 2013

Art, by definition, is subjective and thrives on originality and creativity. It’s not formulaically manufactured, then mass-produced and scrutinized until all manner of individuality has been extracted from it.

In my short and jaded Los Angeles life, I’ve ventured out of the Southern California bubble to generate art and spread it around the world. The contrasting ways that art was produced in these foreign lands I visited, and the even more opposing ways it was received by local audiences, was a lesson in itself about what art is, what it’s purpose in the world is, and how it can affect different people. I’ve grown up working, studying, and watching art produced in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles and New York. I’m used to the way performance art is used to make controversy, used to make money, used to make a name for an industry professional. What I was not used to, was what art could be to the rest of the world.

There is no denying that Los Angeles fabricates successful work at an unstoppable rate. But the competitive nature, the oppressive media-driven atmosphere, and the procedural predictability of it all can make you forget why you wanted to produce art in the first place. Then I met Europe. I spent the first several weeks in my University level, European theatre classes, baffled at why we were not killing ourselves to have more turns or higher leaps than the dancer next to us, why we were not memorizing countless monologues for acting juries that would determine whether or not we could be profitable in the industry. Instead, we were discussing things like the theoretical purposes of art in the world. We were focusing on how we were going to generate art that made a difference, art that spoke to people…art for the sake of art.

“Art for the sake of art”. What does that mean? That was truly more foreign to this American than any other cultural gap I bridged in Europe, because it goes against everything I encountered in my Los Angeles, leading industry, offensively expensive training. With this new motto, I drifted further away from the idea of needing to become “the best” or “the edgiest” singer/dancer, in order to attract an agency with high success ratings. I threw away the idea that a conservatory acting audition could determine whether or not my personal uniqueness, my own brand of art, was going to be “passable” for success in this industry. I began to laugh at the idea that I needed to alter and sculpt the way I produced my organic, original art in order for the greater masses around me to approve of it and feel it is marketable.

My first assignment in school was to visit several parks in the city that would showcase live, free performance art for passersby, and to write about what made the experience special for me, how the art touched my soul personally. What? I’m not supposed to critique the dancers technique or how elaborate the sets were? What?? There were no sets?? The earth itself can be support enough for these artists to produce their art…and for no monetary profit at all!?! This. Is. Madness. Madness, or one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever witnessed.

The first park featured a modern dance troupe that would approach and converse individually with different audience members, and dedicate their dance to someone special to you. As you thought of this person, they would improvise what they observed you feeling. I cried. The next park featured people of all ages, not necessarily dancers or even professional performers, moving in slow motion unison to articulate the atmosphere of the city, they did very little and expressed very much. Hundreds of people showed up to watch throughout the day, everyone was moved because they allowed themselves to be. No one questioned the purpose or scrutinized the production value. The performers were not trying to land media coverage or earn a buck, they just wanted to send art into the world. A later assignment was to observe site-specific art and discuss how the art benefited it’s surroundings. My final assignment was to produce a live art installation that stood for something meaningful and positively contributed to a cause.

Of course, if you want to be a professional musician, learning to read music will come as a great benefit. But there is no recipe or formula for creating a successful song….the creativity and natural emotion put into the piece is what makes it artistic and pleasing to listen to. Art is what makes the world unique and contrasting, colorful and bearable. Eliminating that individuality by asserting that art must be studied, produced, and reviewed in an exact manner in order to be acceptable, is a one way ticket to George Orwell’s 1984.

My most influential teachers were not the ones who taught me to strive for perfect turnout, they were the ones who inspired me to put every inch of myself into my dancing and emote my character into a piece. I don’t have perfect turnout. Most of us don’t. But I get work because I bring an artistic uniqueness to the performance, an expressive eagerness to every moment. I hope I’m not alone when I say that I’d much prefer to watch an expressive human in all their flaws than a robot with perfect triple pirouettes.

Without hesitation, I can confidently assert that one day spent traveling abroad, immersing in different cultures, breathing in the life of different art from those who have a true passion for it, taught me more than years of university level classes and studio training. Los Angeles bred me to be a performer and Los Angeles pays my rent. But Europe made me an artist….and Europe feeds my soul.

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