Creating art, in all its forms, is to possess a combination of creativity, passion & skill mixed with a certain sensitivity, vulnerability & openness to life. A master artisan, craftsman, musician or storyteller must learn how to channel all this and, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, bring “what is within, out into the world.” By the artist harnessing and fine-tuning all of his or her talent, the viewer, listener or reader will be transformed. This is what I experienced today here in Waterford, Ireland.
As a culture, we Americans put a lot of emphasis and expectations on our celebrities. We also harbor a secret desire to be recognized & some of us crave fame & fortune because to be recognized for something we are good at & then put on a pedestal & have our work admired, means we have “arrived”. The vast majority of us will never, ever be famous, regardless of how talented we are, while those who can sell products, act outrageous or fill stadiums will continue to flounder or flourish in the spotlight. There are great artists, musicians, writers, poets, dancers, singers, actors and craftsmen that will go unnoticed or unrecognized their whole entire lives, yet they are so dedicated to their passion, talent, craft, art or music that they will create art for art’s sake. They are the ones that silently, elegantly, beautifully, unwittingly change lives of those they encounter.
Take the master glass blowers and glass cutters at the Waterford crystal factory I observed today. I don’t know their names or their life stories, but I do know that they carefully etch intricate designs on elegant crystal or work laboriously heating, shaping & blowing the glass to create stemware that will be used by royalty, trophies that will be given to champions &gifts presented to heads of states. These craftsmen will never receive any award themselves nor will they leave their names somewhere etched on the bottom of the crystal vase, bowl, or statue. Yet, they endured 10 years of training and art school and 3 years of apprenticeship before ever being allowed to handle the intricate & labor intensive work that is required of them. And if they make one tiny mistake, their piece will have to be smashed & thrown back in the kiln & reheated again & the tedious process must be started all over again.
Or take our local guide, Jack, who took us on a walking tour of his beloved city and gave us a history lesson mixed with a lively, witty, well crafted & executed story at every single stopping point, whether it was a Roccocco styled Anglican Church, a fortified ancient Viking tower. Or his history lesson he had us act out to demonstrate Irish-English relations over the centuries. I only now remember this story because of his interesting spin on it and because he knew how to deliver it so wonderfully to make it educational & entertaining at the same time. He conducts these walking tours daily (among being a consulted historian on many archeological digs in the area) and can read a group’s mood, identify strangers who are willing to participate & find a way to also have a personal conversation with each and every person by the end of the tour & then hope that he is thanked or given a nice tip for his art of storytelling.
And lastly, I met a musician/singer tonight who really made me understand that creating & presenting one’s art or craft to an audience is not about your ego and getting praise, but about tapping into emotions (yours & your audience’s) and giving your gift freely and joyfully. His name is Dermot Power. Odds are he will, like most amazingly talented people, never perform at large stadiums, or in front of heads of state or be offered millions of dollars in recording contracts & tour dates. He sang with a clear, beautiful & honest voice. He played his guitar with such ease & skill. He told stories & gave the history of the ballads he was singing. He talked to us and asked us questions. He made us laugh and made me cry on two separate occasions. Those were songs that had a melancholy overtone to them: “Working Man” writtenby Rita McNeil & an a cappella rendition of the famous Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh’s “On Ragland Road.” He also sang funny “ditties” that made the family from Michigan so happy. The teenage girls swayed to his music, the little 3 year old girl sitting on her mom’s lap clapped her hands, the dad & the oldest daughter smiled and talked & elbowed each other every time Dermot repeated the funny chorus line. My travel buddy, Kristin & I had so much fun that we stayed until closing time. And 8 elderly women from Dublin sat in a small corner booth & sang a long to the Irish ballads of their youth.
That is what art, in its purest form does: it brings what is within you, out into the world.