What drives artists to create? The story of Mary

This week I heard a story about a nutritionist named Mary who used to be an actress. She used to perform improv, sketch and stand up throughout New York City and was seen in Off-Broadway musicals. Now Mary has a regular life in Seattle working as a nutritionist.

In spite of her professional stability, Mary hasn’t stopped performing. She continues to create comedy pieces and continues to perform around Seattle. Her local performances are very low key, though. She’s certainly not making any money out of her presentations and certainly not looking for fame.

So why does Mary continue to perform?

It’s not any news that art is a necessity of the human species. Along with religion, art is the element that makes us, humans, different from all other animals. I see the artist as the one who is able to understand a given reality and express it in an abstract, non-literal way. They are the uneasy people, they are the rebels because they see the world through a different lens, the lens of artistic expression. They are solitary creatures because only the artist himself is the one who understands the translation that goes on in his mind when he transforms his reality into art.

The more artists produce art, the more they feel the need for it. They are never satisfied. Why? Why does Mary continue to perform? What drives an artist to create his/her artwork? Maybe because they want to drive social change… Maybe they want fame and money… Maybe they want to promote religious or political values… Maybe.

The reason I think artists have the drive to create is because they need to communicate with other individuals, to create connections. It’s the human species’ social instinct.

Because the translation – from reality to art – is always going on in an artistic mind and this is generally a solitary occurrence, artists need to make it social. They hope that someone who watches or appreciates their artwork to say, “I see what you are seeing; I see where you come from; I feel the same way.” The desire to create is individual, but the end is social.

Going back to Mary’s story, I believe there is no former artist. There may be former nutritionists, former architects, former lawyers, but the artist continues to be an artist until the day she dies. Mary will continue to perform because the translation continues to happen in her brain and she needs people to communicate it to.

Lingo Dance gives a heartbeat to SAM’s art

Last Thursday I listened on the radio that Lingo Dance would be doing a special performance at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). As I left the office earlier that day, I took the afternoon to check them out.

I don’t go to museums very often and some of you may know that I’m a performance art geek. So when I say that Lingo was by far the best exhibit at the SAM, you know that I’m biased.

Favoritism aside, the Lingo performance was indeed a breath of fresh air in the museum. Five dancers “installed” themselves among SAM’s permanent collection as kinetic sculptures.

At first, I felt a little uncomfortable in staring at the dancers as if they were a picture or sculpture. However, as time passed and I witnessed other museum visitors shamelessly gazing at the performers, I realized, you know what, these dancers are here to be watched anyways – I’ll just take my time and admire.

Good decision that was. Like in visual arts, you can’t actually “get” Lingo’s performance at the SAM unless you take the appropriate time to watch, to appreciate. The performances certainly added warmth and life to the museum, a place in which the artworks generally don’t have a heartbeat. The more I looked at the dancers, the more they attracted me. I didn’t want to leave the museum.

I had an especially pleasing interaction with one of the dancers named Kelly. As I entered the room she was performing, she smiled to me and continued doing her dance. I didn’t want to distract her, but I wanted to tell her that I was enjoying her performance, so I took one of the brochures from the museum, wrote her an encouragement note and placed it next to her business cards. I hope she had the chance to read it. If someday she reads this post, would love to have her comment.

I also met choreographer KT Neihoff, the artistic director of Lingo and creator of the project. She was discreetly checking on the dancers, giving them water and ensuring the performance was running smoothly, like a mom taking care of her kids. She was happy to know that I was enjoying the performance, but at the same time, recognized that some people might have been confused with the whole thing. In fact, there were some people who were like, “what the hell is going on here?” Others were laughing; others ignored, while others – like me – watched and appreciated.

To avoid any confusion, the performers were appropriately labeled like all the other artworks in the museum (with information about artwork title, artist, materials, date etc.) Here is an example of what was written on the sign next to a performer:

  • Title: Aaron
  • Date: Right now
  • Materials: Muscle, sweat, human hair, ethic, challenge
  • Artist: KT Niehoff

Lingo’s presentation/exhibit is part of a bigger project called A Glimmer of Hope or Skin or Light, a project by KT Niehoff to create a more tangible intimacy between audience and artist. According to Lingo’s Website, KT’s investigation of the relationship between the performer and the witness led her to seek out more potent environments that ask both artist and watcher to confront each other as unique individuals who bring to the exchange their personal histories and desires. If that is the goal of the project, KT just nailed it. Hats of to her!

Lingo will be at the SAM the upcoming Thursdays (March 25th and April 1st), from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. If you have the time, go check them out.

First Lady of Shoes in the Bellevue Arts Museum

Last week I stopped by the Bellevue Arts Museum in Downtown Bellevue to see the “First Lady of Shoes” exhibit by Beth Levine. The shoes were beautiful and impressively innovative for the period (I would wear any of them today). In fact, just by looking at the shoes, you realize that Beth Levine’s designs surely was (and continues to be) an inspiration for designers of some today’s famous shoe brands (namely Salvatore Ferragamo, Tory Burch, Louis Vuitton and the plastic shoe star Melissa).

In the museum, I met this cute old lady named Barbara who was about to finish her shift as a museum guide and ended up introducing me to the shoe collection in the most amazing way. She was so excited to show me the details of each shoe, the technology behind each design that was captivating. “Look at all the crystals in this shoe! They were glued one by one,” she said. “And see this heel: it has no screw – it’s an innovative super-adhesive technology!”

The exhibit is worth a visit, especially if you are into fashion – although it may be a little disappointing to realize that the shoe designer you worship today is not that innovative after all.