Sunday, February 28, 2010


3 : a skilled performer

J and I went to an Eric Clapton concert last night with some friends. For a show at a large venue, it was not a typical concert. There was no banter between songs, no stories about when the song was written, why he liked to play it, etc. In fact, I think the only two words Mr. Clapton said to us were, "thank you," with the exception of his introduction of Vince Gill, who joined him for several songs. I found that I didn't mind this. In fact, as the night went on, I found it a refreshing contrast to attend a concert that was primarily about the art of his music, not entertaining the audience with anecdotes, light shows and pyrotechnics. Given the type of show this was, I found myself pondering the difference between an artist and an entertainer.

It was clear to me last night how unbelievably talented Eric Clapton is. As someone who is not a musician and not really a big fan of music (I see music as primarily a vehicle for good lyrics), it was a little amazing to actually enjoy Clapton's guitar solos. I even found myself listening very closely because there were times when I felt like his guitar was talking, speaking a language that I couldn't quite understand, but wanted to know. I think this is art, not entertainment.

For a while now, I've held a theory that art must be shared to be complete. A painting sitting in a closet won't be a masterpiece until it is viewed. A book sitting unread is incomplete. So I understand why Eric Clapton plays in front of thousands of people. How could he not, really? I just think he does it more to share his art than to entertain people (and perhaps to earn a tiny bit of money, which is also a nice byproduct of good art).

As I continued to think about an artist versus an entertainer, I thought of two of my daughters. A is a dancer, but she's also an introvert, so it's always intrigued me that she's willing to dance in front of crowds big and small, on a stage that barely holds her group or at TPAC's Jackson Hall. I could never have done that at her age (or any age!). I once asked her about this. I started by asking whether she likes to dance. That got an immediate "Yes!" When I asked whether she liked to dance in front of people, there was a slight pause as she thought about it, but it still got an affirmative response. She went on to say that she likes dancing in front of people to share what she's learned, that it doesn't matter to her whether a few people watch or a lot of people watch and that it wouldn't be as satisfying to always dance in the studio, she wants to perform. I think A approaches her dance like an artist.

K, on the other hand, is a born entertainer. When we have friends over, she'll tell a story, do a dance or put on an impromptu play - whatever it takes to capture and keep their attention. I don't even need to ask her whether she would be content to stay in the studio - for her, the whole point of dance is to get on that stage. When she had her first dress rehearsal before her recital last year, I asked her if she had liked being on the big stage. There was a long pause, she tilted her head and looked up at me, then said, "Of course, Mommy!" I'm sure she was thinking, "Me? The stage? People watching? What's not to like?!"

I've struggled a bit as a mom with having daughters who are so very different from me. In fact, sometimes it's hard not to judge them. I spent at least the first two decades of my life trying to avoid attention, so it's tough to understand that wanting people to watch you perform can come from a good and healthy place - not a place of "look at me! tell me how great I am!" But I do believe K's desire to entertain is part of the way she is made. It was interesting to look up the definition of entertainer and see that the primary definition relates to being a hostess or entertaining guests. K is great at this. Whenever we have people drop by, she offers them food. Last week, two guys were here framing a door and hanging drywall - K took them part of her afternoon snack. She's a natural entertainer in every sense of the word. And that's not something that I need to train out of her, even if it does strike a bit of fear in my heart, even if I do have a difficult time understanding this impulse.

I want to love each of my daughters the way they need to be loved. I don't want my bias towards art for art's sake to overshadow the sheer exuberance of an entertaining performance. I don't want one daughter to think her offering is less worthy than her sister's, in my eyes or those of God. So I'll continue to watch them do their thing - whether that means a classical ballet piece, a funky jazz number, a comic routine, a basketball drill or whatever else awaits us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This are beautiful words of encouragement for your daughters and other artists and entertainers--and speaks to the act of writing too. Thank you for sharing it!