The Sporting Life
Recently, I saw this image on Facebook.
The text reads:, in part
"Artists are not like athletes, we cannot win gold, we cannot beat other creatives, we cannot come first. Sport is objective, Art is subjective. Creating to be the best is a waste of energy, instead, create to connect to the people who need you, because they're out there."
Of course, I clicked like on it. But it gave me pause. Naturally, it wouldn't have given childhood me pause or warranted a second thought. I was the child of older parents, and I came to kindergarten able to read chapter books independently and utterly confused by the game of soccer. It's not that my parents weren't active--my father played tennis with his work colleagues and my mom did the Jane Fonda workout religiously--it's just that they treated me as a tiny adult, and never socialized me into kid-friendly team sports. I'm also very clumsy, and was tiny and chubby back then. In the 80s where full-contact dodgeball was a favorite PE activity, I didn't get the best impression of sports, growing up, let's say.
I liked running, swimming, and being outdoors, and activities that didn't require a lot of coordination or spending time with other people. Maybe there was some lip service about "just trying" when I was forced to play softball but when everyone around you is hitting home runs, the patronizing clapping for someone who is incompetently "doing her best" is cold comfort.
But when I made a stab at the arts professionally, I quickly realized that the above-cited quote was nonsense. There certainly is an objective reality to how the arts are judged. Any artist in the physical realm of dance, singing, or acting encounters that--can you perform the steps, hit the notes, do you satisfy the director's vision? Are you getting roles and parts? What is your marketable type? The performing arts is particularly brutally objective, I'd argue, even more so than sports, for at least a failed college runner can tie on her shoes and run, but what is an actor in search of a script and stage, out in the wilderness, unwanted?
Even in painting and writing the question arises, always, are you objectively making a living at this, do you need a day job, how many readers do you have? If you're a literary fiction type, the benchmarks might be slightly different, such as winning critical acclaim or literary prizes, but still, these objective benchmarks exist. The most grotesque "praise" a writer can receive is, "well, it's a big accomplishment to write a book"! Worst than being clapped for after striking out in softball.
Typing, stringing words together, no matter how many, isn't satisfying to someone pursuing writing as an art, unless there is a reader and a sense of communication. And being able to make a living at writing is critical to secure the time and space to perfect it and to really make it into art worth reading. Earning potential and readership, again, do offer objective feedback, in cold, numerically measured ways. That feedback often hurts.
I think that's why I've actually become more physically active with age. It's sometimes actually less pressure to know that a goal like running a certain distance or performing an activity for a finite period of time will yield results, even to fail at that benchmark. It's easier to look at a fitter, younger body and to see why they are faster, versus a mysteriously popular book or author who is beloved and more successful and to know what subtle golden psychological level they are operating on you just can't see.
The last words of the meme state to "focus on your unique brand of magic." But no one wants to be the magician pulling the rabbit out of the hat in the unseen wilderness, and if there is no audience (or only a minimal one) to marvel at the trick, is it really magic at all?