I once received a colored-crayon drawing from a very young niece. She made the drawing, folded the paper into the shape of an envelope, sketched a stamp in the appropriate corner, and then handed it to me. She was very pleased with herself for she had found a way to guarantee a sympathetic reception for her work of art.
She had reason to be pleased, but what will she do when she learns that the creation of art is actually much more like writing a note addressed "To Whom It May Concern," sealing it in a bottle, and then dropping it from a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
Will she then still wish to draw? Or will she decide that art is not for her , that its rewards are too uncertain, and that she'd be better off putting her feelings elsewhere?
And why, I wonder, do those who stick to it, those who keep plugging away year after year at writing, painting, composing, etc, often with little or no acceptance or approval, continue at it?
It certainly isn't only talent that drives them, although early proof of its existence will help focus a youngster's attention and will provide him with just enough effectiveness to convince him that he is not totally deluded about his chances.
No, it's something else, something much less tangible and more private.
One might think it had to do with greater sensitivity, with deeper feelings, sensibilities, and values. Or with a greater sense of the beauty, fragility, or preciousness of life. Considering the emotional nature of art, that would make sense.
But that doesn't really convince me either. I've known altogether too many people in the arts who were blind as bats to anything beyond their own egos, and too many people whose only contact with the arts lay in an occasional trip to a concert or a museum, who yet lived lives of the deepest beauty and concern.
And besides, don't we all, artists and non- artists alike, share the same basic humanity? Haven't we all experienced moments when everything falls into place, when everything seems to be part of a whole and we exist serenely and at peace with the world and with ourselves?
And haven't there also been moments of great anguish and pain when we wanted nothing so much as a peaceful resolution of what was ripping us apart?
Or moments of beauty we literally ached to share, flashes of insight which burned to be told, and pits of loneliness which needed to be filled? Haven't there been times we wanted to shout to the heavens that we were truly alive, that we truly existed, that we didm matter regardless of how small we were in the overall scheme of things?
And who of us, during or after such moments, hasn't written a poem, painted a picture, or composed a song to express these feelings or to try to capture the quality of the moment forever?
Common sense and fear of ridicule may cause us to keep such efforts at self-expression to ourselves, but weren't we a bit awed by what came out, by our creative potential? Didn't it seem for a brief moment as though we were involved in an act of magic? That we were somehow plugged into life's deepest rhythms and secrets?
And didn't it feel like the most wonderful thing in the world? Feel so good that it would be worth giving up almost everything else for?
Most of us get over this feeling, tuck it and our poem or painting away, and get on with the daily routine of living. But for some that is impossible. They can never get over it. They are hooked and will spend the rest of their lives trying to reactivate that feeling through art, trying to connect at least one more time with those wonderfully life-generative rhythms and patterns of which we are so much a part and which yet transcend us.
For these people art is not a profession or a career so much as a reason for being. It is life, love, and understanding all rolled into one.
They are driven not only to feel deeply but to give form to that feeling. Driven not so much to make things as to shape better vehicles of expression in order to project the uniqueness as well as the universality of what they feel, sense, love, hope and know.
(If we understood better that art is more a matter of findingm expression than of being "self-expressive," we would be able to accept a bit more easily the ruthless necessities of emotion and idea seeking external form. And understand better why, should all traditional forms be inadequate, the artist mustm shape something totally new.)
And lastly, these people we call artists are driven to share. They may argue in all honesty that they create only for its own sake, that it is their inner necessity, integrity and passion which concerns them and not the ultimate disposition of their art, but creativity, like procreativity, has its own laws of which the artist, driven by his private vision and passions, may not be consciously aware.
And that drive is what my young niece will need if she is to continue in the arts. She has already decided that painting is not for her. And that ballet-dancing is the greatest thing in the world. But she is only 14, and we shall see.