In Dani Shapiro’s marvelous “Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life,” she shares a classic anecdote in an artist’s life. Her friend, who is a notable sculptor, is asked at a dinner party “…if I was still doing the sculpture thing.” Shapiro laughs empathetically, and he continues ruefully “…How was I supposed to respond? Are you still doing the brain surgery thing?” (p.225)
Shapiro muses about this question that is posed constantly to countless artists, from the famous and acclaimed to the unknowns, a question that implies that our art is a whim or a phase, something that will be cast aside when the next shiny thing catches our eye. Or in Shapiro’s word, “outgrown.”
As a dancer, I recognize that people may have more of an excuse to ask this question, that is admittedly probably well-intentioned. After all, dancing and the passage of time take their toll on the body, making longevity less likely.
But the element of intense physicality doesn’t account for the high frequency and pervasiveness of this question. Even artists whose work isn’t as physically demanding or involved are constantly asked whether they are still pursuing their art. It’s a query that ignores or overlooks that art chooses us, not the reverse. It’s a question that fails to appreciate the astounding depth of meaning and value that our art lavishes upon us and our lives, and instead, relegates that art to the disposable.
In the life of the artist, art is not a passing fancy nor a mere hobby (as wonderful as hobbies may be). It is a calling. It is indispensable.
Stopped dancing? You may as well ask if we’ve stopped breathing.
And embraced in our clan are all the dancers who may not be able to move physically as they once did, but whose hearts and souls continue to beat as dancers.
Or, in Shapiro’s brilliant anthem about writing (but you can fill in your art): “Writing saved my life. Writing has been my window–flung wide open to this magnificent, chaotic existence–my way of interpreting everything within my grasp….It has been a privilege. It has whipped my ass. It has burned me into a valuable clarity….It has pushed me to get better, to be better….So yes. Yes. Still writing.” (p. 227)
And heck yes, still dancing!
Photos: Top and middle–courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016, 2017; Bottom–courtesy of Christina Goldberg; Sculptures–Gil Boro