A reality check begins with some questions.
A previous post from last week, Rebranding a Dream, got me thinking on a story published in the Chicago Tribune last month. It stated that enrollment in U.S. college music programs across the country has spiked significantly in recent years; this, in spite of the weak economy and very limited (even shrinking) market for classical music jobs.
Author Howard Reich writes:
Applications are soaring at music schools across the country, often mirroring the overall rise in college enrollment but in many cases surpassing the interest in other disciplines. Never mind that the chances of landing a paying job in a decent-size symphony orchestra have diminished, with many ensembles going out of business in recent years. Never mind that jazz clubs are becoming an endangered species.
From this article, broader, more philosophical questions come to mind.
At what point does pursuing a dream become reality? Or on the opposite side of the scale, when does it become impractical – or even a folly?
Certainly in this current climate students pursuing a music career will face great challenges; in finding gainful employment and in finding artistic and financial satisfaction. Tough questions like these are something that many will need to face at one time or another.
A man called Thoth
A very interesting case study is the performing artist known as Thoth. He is featured in an Academy Award winning 45-minute documentary that is available on YouTube. Originally found at Jason Heath’s blog, this film gets my highest recommendation.
It, and the previously mentioned Tribune article, is what inspired the general questions raised in this post. Somehow I feel there is a connection.
At times I have struggled in my own artistic path, and so I found this film utterly fascinating on multiple levels. Thoth is an amazingly creative individual who has literally invented his own world – his own language, mythology and music. His one-man opera both amazes and perplexes.
On the one hand I greatly admire the intense creativity, bravado and freedom he displays. There is something to be learned from this. On the other hand I wonder if his oeuvre is something like a pathology, made up of delusion and a bit of hubris.
Since he is a street musician, his audiences are mainly comprised of curious onlookers, mouths agape in astonishment. His artistic reach is very limited.
In other words, if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise? If a person ceases to be a functioning member of society does their personal artistic pursuit hold merit, no matter how amazingly original and creative?
I do recall seeing Thoth make a very brief appearance on the popular television show, America’s Got Talent. He was eliminated in about 5 seconds and I wondered, why would he bother auditioning for that show unless he honestly thought he had a chance at winning?
He obviously displays a great talent, but why bother with that particular venue where failure seemed imminent? His brand of expression is hardly mainstream and he must realize this.
In the world of practicality then, when does a dream become reality? When does the pursuit of a dream become fantasy? At what point does an Artist say “yes this is it” or “no it is not?” And if an answer is found, then what? Do I accept the outcome, do I compromise or do I change paths?
With a music student hellbent on a single career choice, I would ask very similar questions.
Career dreams made up of realistic goals and hard work are generally accepted as good and positive. Dreams constructed of abstract ideals and fantasies are much less well-received, at least from a pragmatic point of view.