Where is the artistic passion? Thoughts on passion in society

On my blog post yesterday, my friend Righini had commented in part:

[…] i notice how much love you put in everything you do from writings to music, and i’m amazed and my heart feels warmed! What’s your secret root? Where do you take all this strength?

I started to write a really, really long reply in the comments, and then realized… hmm, perhaps I should just make this into a post, so here I am! 🙂

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I truly believe that everyone has enormous passion inside, but this too often gets stifled due to fear, ignorance, lack of inspiration and role models, and lastly, distraction (“SQUIRREL!” :p). Some examples:

Fear of being different
Drawing from Hollywood (eeep!)… on “Glee” there’s an athlete who had tons of music in his soul, but was afraid to let it out for fears of being ostracized by peers.

There’s a reason in the U.S. that kids playing instruments in band are (usually derisively) called “Band Geeks” or “Choir Fags.”  Maybe now it’s more cool to be in choir or band, but back when I was in high school, it generally wasn’t.  I think kids often repress the expressive depths of their passion (in all forms) because they’re afraid of being different, and — in the case of guys — quite possibly afraid of being perceived as feminine or even gay.

My best friend in high school was a fellow geek (imagine that!).  Couldn’t sing a note.  That is, until he somehow ended up in choir and also my singing telegram group after a bit of arm twisting.  Here’s someone that never thought he could really sing, and by the end of the year, he had excellent relative pitch (and even blips of perfect pitch) and was a truly valuable member of our ensemble.
And more importantly, it wasn’t until these experiences that he discovered a love of making music.  Got the darned biggest smile on his face when voices blissfully converged, just like the rest of us grinning fools.

This was undiscovered passion, and I doubt I’m exaggerating when I note it likely changed his life.

Lack of inspiration and role models
I think tons of kids (and I focus on kids, because by the time you’re an adult, you’re often set in your ways)… I think most kids don’t realize the beauty of really listening to and making music. Their role models are (typically) highly paid athletes, pop or rap stars. How can they fall in love with choral music, with classic jazz, with quiet beauty and clever complex rhythms much less the idea of making this music themselves when they aren’t exposed to potential role models? Each time I go to the symphony, I become more and more depressed at seeing an audience on the cusp of dying (in a way, literally, to be morbid).  How many kids go to orchestra or jazz concerts? How many kids can even afford to go see musicals nowadays? How many kids are watching “Billy Elliott” vs. movies-that-bang-or-bite?  Few.

And on a related note, with writing nowadays people are bombarded with short-form (e.g., Twitter, Facebook Updates, etc.), so when it comes time to express themselves, they follow the pack and mimic what they see.  Sure, there are folks writing detailed essays, even people still writing books (!), but when one asks oneself, “Could I really do this?” the gut answer is no.  Too much time to write a book and get it published.  Too much effort to write a detailed blog post (I’m sure this one of mine — hardly supremely artful, really — will take at least an hour to write and lightly edit).

Ironically, the “could I do this?” answer is technically moving towards “yes” (with cheap videocams, easy blogging platforms, even free music notation software online!) but the emotional roadblocks are still high and the societal inspiration is still low.

At least in America, our society doesn’t seem geared towards collaborative or deep individual expression for the “common person” anymore.  For example, in the 1930s-50s, Harlem was covered by massive ballrooms where the cool kids (not just accomplished dancers) would go regularly to not only find love (hey, some things never change :D), but also passionately express themselves artistically on the bandstand or the dance floor.  Take the Savoy Ballroom, which spanned a full city block, had two big bands on tap every night, and was crammed full with well-dressed folks young and old, black and white, dancing the night away together.  Today, we have “clubs” but — while some might disagree — I just don’t think it’s the same.  And the Savoy and most of the massive ballrooms of its time no longer exist.


Despite working for a pretty awesome company, I cannot help but think how much I could accomplish in my life if I didn’t have to work, and yes, I realize that’s hardly an original thought ;-).
BRB.  Gotta go check my e-mail and Twitter and Facebook and… ah, another IM.  And here’s another text message.  And…
Oh, sorry.  Got distracted.  By work (is the ability to work from home liberating or shackling?), by home stuff (searching, furnishing, cleaning, repairing, hosting…), by boring-life-stuff (license renewal, money management, sleeping), and by online stimulus (oh look, another IM!) and so on.
I’ve largely turned off IM, I don’t watch TV, I’m trying to read tech news and gossip less often, and I’ve finally mostly-beaten my college-uber-frugality-mentality (oh, look, I can save $5 if I spend 30 minutes searching for a better bargain online!), and so on.  But still, after the day’s minutes are totaled up, it’s sobering and depressing to see how little free time is left.  And then there’s the second guessing; what if I had spent an hour composing music instead of writing this whining blog post? 😉
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Then there’s the distinction between talent and passion.  As noted above, I believe everyone’s got passion deep in their soul, but not everyone (yet) has talent. Of course, not everyone cares, but that’s a different issue 🙂
Or is it?  I touched upon fear earlier as one blocker of passion, and perhaps that’s more central than I initially assumed.  How many people suppress potential passions because, talentwise, they’re “not good enough.”  And in this situation, I wonder if those now-ubiquitous talent competitions on TV help or hurt.  On one hand, they could be providing inspiration (“Wow, look at that awesomeness!”), but often I worry that they deepen the divide between those who express passion and those who resign themselves to witness it.  “Oh, I could never do that!”  Passion becomes something that is intensively, often expensively cultivated, practiced, refined, and — particularly disturbing to me — judged.  Whereas in the olden days people routinely sang and danced in a communal way, now the passion has become glitzified, rarefied, something other people do, people who are better than you.
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The answer:  less talk, more action 🙂
I sometimes worry that I’m becoming too much of an old soul.  Too nostalgic, often for a life I never lived, experiences I never experienced.    Too disdainful — often hypocritically so — of popular culture, of frenetic multitasking, of Likes rather than Loves.
It’s easy to be critical, to be wistful, even to be angry.  It is much harder to re-channel that into productive passion rather than indignation.  So my advice to my future self is this:  create rather than lament.  Passion is still around us, and it speaks for itself.







3 responses to “Where is the artistic passion? Thoughts on passion in society”

  1. righini Avatar

    interesting that i asked about roots and you answered mostly by naming walls, and obstacles that sometimes are even hard to see.

    You tried improvisation. Did you notice that many times what comes out are just the parts that we do well?

    what is your way to re-channel that productive passion? you mentioned the job, are you doing that “re-channeling” in your job too? Why not in music? Why not searching for a trusted bride? Or lindy hopping all day long? (please don’t mention money in the answer, that would be too easy)

    On a side note, i liked the Wonderful story of your friend that didn’t think he could sing, it happened a similar thing to me (the difference is that i needed more years of paid lessons, lol), you think his life changed, what he thinks?

  2. Jaemi Avatar

    I agree with the less talk, more action point. Though I’d say less think, more do. It’s so simple to over-think yourself out of things – from coffee or tea right on up to the best thing ever to happen to you – and much more difficult to curtail that phenomenon. Life’s too short.

  3. forshop Avatar

    Though I’d say less think, more do. It’s so simple to over-think yourself out of things – from coffee or tea right on up to the best thing ever to happen to you – and much more difficult to curtail that phenomenon.


What do you think?