One of the girls in class tonight said something that smacked me square in the side of the head. We were all having a conversation about the responsibilities inherent in calling oneself an actor, and about taking personal ownership of the choice to wear the mantle of “artist”. This particular young actor mentioned that she thought it worth remembering that we live in one of the very few parts of the world where being an artist is a vocation that needs to be defended, that most of the world understands that it’s both a demanding and a crucial job. This just isn’t so in Vancouver, for some reason we tend to apologize with the tone of our voice when we reply to the question of what we do, we couch our response in a soft cushion of self-deprecation for fear of sounding perhaps pretentious or schmaltzy. I think this is a pervasive issue that is felt here for all artists, but actors in particular, possibly due to the fact that whenever we fess up to someone that we ah, well, you know, do some acting, that the first response to this is “Oh, cool, what have I seen you in?”. Every. Single. Time. Like it’s not enough just to be this kind of artist, but you have to be placed in some kind of pop culture context to be legitimized. I’m sure not many painters get “Yeah, what paintings of yours have I seen?”, they’re just accepted as having answered a divine calling and the conversation moves on. Well, it’s all art. It’s all a divine calling, and it’s all out of our control. We just do it, and hope that something we want to say gets heard through the particular medium we choose. And if we can get paid for it too, then we’re very, very lucky, because that is literally a dream come true, making a living at what you love. May we all be so lucky.
Most artists don’t make a living at what they do, but most keep on making art. Art that speaks to people, that connects them to their own life, and feelings, and place in the world. This is at the very least worthy of a great deal of respect, more respect than is currently being offered them. In many parts of the world the humanities, and the arts in particular, are placed alongside commerce as a necessary facet of society. Right now in Vancouver the arts are viewed as a luxury, as a non-essential entity that sort of adds a little flavour to the overall stew, but isn’t the meat and potatoes of the functioning of the city. It’s high time that this changes, and it starts with all of us, the artists, claiming our chosen title when in conversation about what we do and who we are and, unblinking, move on. We’ve got work to do.