Life… Art… Everyone’s a Critic

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I was old enough to remember, but I can’t remember exactly how old I was… maybe 5… But I do remember exactly what I wore, what I looked like, but most importantly what they looked like. I was mesmerized. The surreal creatures populating that unimaginably graceful, perfection-infused world couldn’t have been the same people I knew… the same people I had seen drinking coffee, smoking, talking and laughing, just like everybody else… the same people I had seen at birthday parties, or cooking dinner, or simply sitting around and doing nothing, just like normal, ordinary humans. I would never look at them the same after that performance.

Swan Lake was the first ballet I had ever seen and most of the divine creatures that had fascinated me that evening were our family friends. I was still struggling to understand and appreciate the experience when everything took an equally extraordinary turn. I somehow managed to take a massive bouquet of flowers to the couple everybody was applauding, in whose home I had spent so much time as a child, that I wasn’t quite sure they weren’t family. But now they seemed strangers and I kept looking at them, wanting to make sure they were the same people. They were and they were not. I couldn’t quite figure it out at that specific moment. All I knew was that a great honour was being bestowed on me when the two didn’t let me return to my seat and instead took me with them backstage.

The two large dressing rooms were swarming with dancers whose graceful movements had transposed the audience in a dimension of dream, beauty and perfection. I could hear familiar voices again… yes, I loved the ballet… yes, I loved them all for being so beautiful… did I want to become a ballerina when I grew up? Funny… in spite of all those overwhelming sensations, ‘no’ was the word that instinctively came to my lips. But I was still under the spell of that mystifying display, so I felt such an answer would hurt those delicate, yet superior creatures (I still wasn’t quite sure they were the same people I had known forever, even if I already noticed my mother heading towards us – she looked like herself among her surreal looking friends, so everything must be the same).

It was art, I had been told so many times before – ballet was art. And those were the artists, I was also told. I had no idea what art meant, but I would latter on piece together images and memories; my presence was forgotten in a matter of minutes all I had to do then and there was sit quietly on a chair out of the way and take everything in, see, experience, feel and try to understand.

But the mysterious, enchanting creatures I had just seen on the stage had disappeared and I was trying to understand if what was unfolding in front of my eyes was terribly ugly or stunningly beautiful. I didn’t like how the dressing room smelt, that much I knew. Up close, the costumes were not at all as delicate as I expected them to be – many of them actually looked old and shabby, many needed mending and cleaning. Angelic faces looked grotesque in normal light and the half removed makeup was letting tired, half angry, half satisfied, absolutely human features resurface. Costumes were flying left and right, uncovering the same perfect bodies I had seen on stage, bodies which seemed devoid of any grace now. Was this art as well? Were they still artists? All I knew was they were nothing like what I had been lead to believe adults should be. They were free and open about their beauty and their bodies, they didn’t censor anything about themselves.

Then another thing became equally obvious. They were just like everybody else – petty, judgemental, cruel, envious. They started to settle down, forming smaller groups, discussing, criticizing and tearing each other apart. The show had been a success, yet they were whispering all sorts of offending remarks about each other; the more entitled ones didn’t bother to hide their disdain. In the same time, they were planning a party for latter… they were the closest of friends… they were the best of enemies.

But were they still artists? And if they were, then was their petty behaviour part of their art? Was the artist impersonating the human or was the human trying to imitate the artist? Which one was predominant? Which one was the true identity? I gave up answering those questions. I learnt to live with the thought that the artist is human and the human can be an artist, the two are sometimes one and the same or at least intertwining halves that can hardly be told apart. Art and everyday life can be the same. Perfection is nothing but apparent both when it comes to life and to art. There is incomparable beauty in everyday life and hideousness in art… and so much more to both of them… especially when both of them are the same entity.

I’ve seen Swan Lake again a couple of days ago. It was beautiful… the way it always is… It wasn’t perfect, the same way life never is. Having seen how much effort, discipline, determination and talent goes into making such a performance seem naturally beautiful, perfect even, I generally refrain from criticizing. Yet I caught myself hearing my mother’s and her friends’ cruel words going through my mind while noticing some of the prima ballerina’s mistakes. Who is she sleeping with? She’s too old, she should have retired years ago… There are at least two younger girls better than her… Or were they my words?… Was I imitating the artist, without being an artist myself, thus becoming nothing more than a critic?…

We revere them so much, we want to be like them so badly, that we forget they are only human, just like us… So when we work so hard trying to imitate them, don’t we also bring into our lives some of the ugliness that is part of theirs? After all, beauty and perfection are apparent and talent isn’t exactly easy to replicate…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art – This week, find inspiration in a piece of art. Then, imitate it.

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9 thoughts on “Life… Art… Everyone’s a Critic

  1. You raise questions I’ve never thought of before! What drew me at first to this post was the unique perspective of you as a young child seeing people you knew, yet knew differently. Then I started pondering how I suppose we idealize our favorite artists, just as so much of the world idealizes their favorite pop stars or musicians, never realizing that real people exist behind the images they create. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

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    • It’s interesting to see how art transforms people we know when they are the ones performing it. However, when we have nothing to do with artists we appreciate, the common tendency is to forget they are only people after all… We often judge so harshly and hold them to impossibly high standards.

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  2. Your first paragraph really captured my attention. I didn’t know it was about the ballet until the second paragraph, then I was really hooked. I performed with two dance companies back in my youth and there is magic in the world of dance, but also that biting and petty competition that you mentioned as well. You nailed this one. I am so glad I have stumbled onto your site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That must have been a memorable experience – from what I’ve seen, it’s a world with rules of its own and it takes amazing strength to survive in it, not to mention thrive. Thank you for stopping by, I’m really glad you enjoyed my post and didn’t find it offending in any way.

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  3. Always, the art, not the artist. Why the confusion when those who create beauty aren’t necessarily beautiful themselves? They are human beings, first. What sense would it make to reject a work of brilliance because the artist is a bad this or that?

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