Art as a lifestyle choice


On Saturday evening, I attended a performance in my friend’s dining room. There were seven of us in the audience- we had a potluck dinner, and gathered around the table as choreographer Emily Gastineau performed her piece – which she’s performing this week for an event at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Monday.

There wasn’t a huge amount of dancing in the piece. There was a moment where she handed out ice for us all to hold. She also showed off her skill in balancing on one foot. She read a script, which was a kind of thesis, with lots of references to arts and dance criticism. What I got from the thesis was a frustration, at being a young artist today- with a mounting cynicism of the possibility of having a sustainable existence. 

I really liked the piece for two reasons. The first is the fact that it took place in a living room. I think there needs to be more art that takes place in private spheres. I feel like there’s been a trend in recent years to return art to being something that can happen everywhere- and that anyone can participate in. You don’t have to pay $40 for a ticket to see some play or concert. There’s no reason why art can’t happen in our homes, our neighborhoods, our backyards. Anybody can get together and play some music together. When you graduate from high school and no longer play in the school band or orchestra, that isn’t a reason to say goodbye to your musical instrument forever.

I’m encouraged by the DIY movement, and new groups like the Yes!Lets Collective, that’s all about making art participatory, and something anybody can take part in. Bedlam, In the Heart of the Beast, Juxtaposition Arts, and many other local organizations also espouse that ideal.  

Of course the problem with the idea that anybody can make art is — what happens to people who want to be professionals? That’s what Gastineau’s thesis was getting at. When I was growing up, my parents told me I could do anything (well, my mom did — my dad leaned more toward having a sensible career). I went to college and majored in theater. And then I went to graduate school and studied acting. What was I thinking? What delusions were put into my head to think that this was a good idea?

I don’t know if knowing what I know now would make me do things differently. I continue to act in plays. I’ve scrabbled together a kind of career doing sort of creative things like writing articles and teaching.

I think that more public funding should go towards the arts, but I’ve been persuaded by recent research that projects that are geared toward access to the arts for underserved communities, endeavors that provide people with opportunities to not just see art but participate as well are more beneficial to society than simply underwriting major arts institutions that generally serve the rich. In the community-based model, artists become community organizers, teachers, and “lead artists”. There’s not as much room for a person to create work alone. It requires a shift in thinking for many.

In the meantime, when funding is not available, I think it’s not such a terrible thing when people get together and do arty things together without getting paid. It’s a lifestyle choice- like exercise and eating healthy. It improves your quality of life. Or at least it’s improved mine — and I would highly recommend it to others.

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