High art. I remember talking with an artist friend who wanted to eventually achieve the status of "high art" within his medium. I didn't know what he meant. I certainly didn't think of myself as a high art singer, so I didn't consider the term beyond that conversation. I know opera is a high art, but because I've spent most of my singing career performing in small venues and farmers' markets, I didn't take myself seriously within a high art context. I didn't fit the opera world, and I didn't think I was proficient enough to be recognized as a high art singer...until recently. This summer I performed a few classical concerts with professional musicians. I performed well and was able to deeply connect with my audiences. I took a step into the high art world.
But what does high art mean? I've come to realize that such an artist, after years of disciplined training, has achieved a means of self expression that is worthy of their own inherently great talent. The artist displays a mastery of technique that demonstrates a refinement and power of movement. Her skills move an audience into an admiring awe.
It's an admirable life. A great artist moves people masterfully through a range of emotions. She organizes an audience into a shared experience. Together the audience exercises a pose of "yes" in affirmation of their shared experience. Humans need these experiences. Catharsis, subtlety, inspiration, "ah." People need a rich and diverse emotional skillset to structure a rich and diverse society. Artists help lay the foundations. For these reasons, I think artists should be able to create and perform their art, and society should give the artist enough to make a living. Simple.
I experienced some beautiful exchanges this summer--lovely interactions between artist and audience, however I also experienced some culture shock that caused me to retreat and reflect. I experienced behaviors of people in high society that did not create the kind of equitable exchange I desire and need. Because of my experiences, I decided to analyze how high society thinks about the artist. This is what I discovered:
High society basically consists of a group of people who have money and power. Most of them are nice people, but many also exercise particular habits of thinking that, in my opinion, demean and distort the artist, their work, and the interaction between artist and audience.
First of all, many high society people conceptualize "inner richness" in terms of units. Emotions, and "ah" or "yes" experiences, are thought of as units that can accumulate mathematically toward infinity. Many high society people think they can accumulate "inner richness" in the same way they accumulate money, gradually increasing in number until they have more than anyone else. For this reason, people with money view the artist both as a unit and as a unit maker. The artist lives a life of "inner richness" which makes them a valuable unit, but she also generates emotions and "ah" in other people, which increases her value. Rich people, wanting to accumulate as many units as possible, hire the artist to increase their own inner richness. By conceptualizing "inner richness" as an accumulation of units, rich people view the artist as a quantifiable object to be grouped with other objects. Armed with this conceptualization, the rich people organize status events and invite their friends to display how much "inner richness" they have. Rich people pay the artist an amount of money that they feel reflects the artist's worth as a unit, and this exchange also serves as a contract in which the artist agrees to conceptualize herself as a unit, to be displayed along with the rich person's stuff.
I don't conceptualize "inner richness" in terms of units that can be accumulated. I conceptualize "inner richness" as character--a cultivation of body. As a singer, I have developed a mastery of inner movement authentic to who I am as a body and worthy of my inherent talent as body. I aim to inspire others to develop themselves as bodies. I aim to move people through emotions, through robust and refined exercises of inner movement. I aim to move people into a state of "ah," of "yes," a stretching pleasure pose of the core muscles--an invigoration of the inner musculature that humans exercise in breath and emotion and speech and song. I aim to inspire people to be bodies and to cultivate ways to understand each other and themselves as bodies.
I would like people to understand this, but many do not conceptualize inner emotions and states of "ah" as body processes. Rather, inner emotions and states of "ah," are units that accumulate in number toward infinity. Furthermore, many people imagine these units have supernatural properties. Within the context of high society, I've noticed that in addition to hiring artists to gain "inner richness," some rich people hire artists to increase their "spiritual richness." By increasing spiritual richness, people feel justified to live with disproportionate wealth and power over others. They imagine depositing these spiritual units into a kind of imaginary spiritual savings account. Then they justify their own wealth and power based on their own assessment (or the community's assessment) of their spiritual account. The more spiritually rich you are, the wealthier and more powerful you deserve to be.
When I am in situations with people who think this way, it's disorienting. I become a player in these games. I've noticed that people expect me to agree with their particular belief system when they hire me. They want to believe that they are accumulating "spiritual richness" from the art event. And because they believe that artists are units of spiritual richness, they expect the artist to play within their fantasy by agreeing with their dogma. The ideas of the artist are generally of no consequence. More important than the thoughts of the artist are certain beliefs (i.e "god is infinite," and "emotions and 'ah' are spiritual units") The rich person's conceptualization of the artist as a generator of spiritual units fits their agenda to accumulate units of spirituality in order to achieve what they believe are their higher goals: god and infinity.
Like I said, most are nice people, and most, (all in my experience) are genuinely appreciative and kind to me and other artists, but these underlying ways of thinking put me in an awkward position. Not only do I call bullshit on these kinds of ideas, I think these ways of thinking contribute to societal problems that I take strong objection to:
These ways of thinking perpetuate class divisions. At a time when we need to figure out more equitable distributions of wealth and power, I think these ways of thinking prevent us from moving forward to create better ways to organize society. These ways of thinking also confine artists to be quiet about their needs and restrict them from developing and speaking their opinions. They also perpetuate a system of valuing money over actual cultivation of inner richness and an understanding of what actual inner richness is. They also create, in my opinion, a false and shallow conceptualization of what art is for, and who is allowed to enjoy it or create it.
What is the solution? I work toward change. I passionately continue to do what I love to do. I relate to and respect people as bodies. I develop myself. I write. I talk. I work to understand and create understanding. I continue to perform in ways that I value, mastering my craft and creating intimate experiences with my audiences. I try to inspire people to develop their own inner richness of character and creativity. It is for my work and wisdom that I want people to pay me money, or give me food, or kind hospitality, so that I can live and cultivate my art, and perform for others. I ask to be a master of my art in humble exchange for human acknowledgement and a means to sustain myself as a body. I ask to be conceptualized as myself.