Art & Virtuosity

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.  ~Pablo Picasso

Original artwork by R. Nelson Parrish. Created August 2009.

My brother-in-law on Husband’s side is an artist. Like an actual artist who produces original work on a regular basis and gets paid to do that, either by private owners or by commission. He also does design work on the side and takes really beautiful photographs, especially on road trips. I may even like his photographs as much or more than the “sculptures” (for lack of more specific term) that help him earn a living. And I, existing in my mostly structured universe, often wonder how he can stand not having a regular paycheck, how he can happily pursue his artwork without the stability of a “real” job. But he does something quite brave on a regular basis — he puts these expressions of himself out into the universe, out there to be praised or criticized, possibly ignored or lost in the sea of all the other visual artists who are trying to make it. Even though it’s taking time, it seems like lately he is finally starting to experience external success on a more regular basis, and I am proud of him and his efforts — something I don’t tell him often enough.

Deep down, I think we are all artists, and I don’t mean that we all paint/sculpt/draw/write/dance/act. Actually, I told Sister over the holidays that I think in our society we worship at the feet of artists in our society. We pay musicians and movie actors millions and millions of dollars because we want to see or hear them perform. We pay athletes millions and millions of dollars because we are enthralled by their athletic performances on the field of play, by watching their bodies move and create in stunning displays of physical beauty. We like to see other people do what they do best at the very highest level. What we don’t always think about — as we gape at these stars who make the most difficult acts seem effortless — is that those “artists” work incredibly hard at their respective crafts. They make mistakes. They try new things. They try to achieve virtuosity, defined as “doing the common uncommonly well.” They set their internal standards of excellence so high that the opinions of others don’t matter nearly as much as their own.

I certainly believe that each of us can live life like an artist, with creativity and passion. That we can take whatever it is we do in our daily lives and work hard at it… in order to do it so well that it becomes beautiful to ourselves and others. That we can be passionate about the craft we are called to and strive to reach the highest bar we can set for ourselves. If we could do that — or at least if I could do that — then what would it matter what anyone else thinks? I want to do what I love to the best of my ability. I want to grow and explore the outermost reaches of that ability, a process in itself that is rewarding and fulfilling, even while it is challenging. I want to be a Creator within my own life, not someone who simply absorbs all of the amazing things that others are doing and wonders why I am not doing those things.

So now, World, please help me listen hard to hear my true calling. In the meantime, I will try to listen like an Artist.

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