I have been thinking a lot about this in the past year, what qualities are present, in the lives of people who are able to sustain themselves in the performing arts. Including writers and painters.
I have recently finished interviewing over 110 people, from all branches of the performing arts, from highly adept technical sound people, to massage experts, caterers, club owners, and dozens of artists, some exceedingly famous, others either just starting out, or working on a much smaller scale.
if there is any one single quality, the most prevalent quality, that I would say is present in the lives of all of the successful artists I know, from whatever discipline, it would be the quality, of uncommon emotional flexibility.
In my life I have seen hundreds if not thousands quit the business entirely, some just couldn’t take the emotional strain, others refuse to pay attention to their surroundings, and yet others were never meant to last long anyway, and seemed rather meant to be a brilliant, bright, temporary flash, that faded quickly from view.
And then there are the long-term veterans, at all different levels of the business, chugging away after 50 or 60 years, and everyone else in between.
There is also, and unfortunately so, an entire generation, so raised on privilege and technology, that they actively sabotage their careers, and their artistic expression, by alienating everyone around them, and being far more obsessed with their image, then they are dedicated to their craft. More often than not, is there emotional rigidity, and refusal to adapt to new surroundings, that plays a major part, and how their careers unfold, or not.
Nonetheless, in all of these categories, the ones with emotional flexibility, uncommon emotional flexibility, have fared the best. They’re the ones that can tune in to people they don’t know. They can adjust for any situation, they deal with, and meet the demands of unexpected, and unreasonable turns of fate (certain to happen in this business), incredible windfalls, and disasters, but most of all the needs and feelings of other artists, with whom they share a common bond, and who all together, create this loosely knit family, that I loosely call performing artists.
They feel all the same things anyone feels, but these are the ones that do not freak out when the tour collapses, or they get dropped from a record label, or last year they were playing coliseums and now they’re playing clubs, or their equipment got stolen, or one of their friends OD’d, or their ex-wife ran off with a roadie, or they just can’t seem to get the kind of traction they want to, despite doing everything correctly.
These are the people with uncommon emotional flexibility.
You rarely hear them whine, or berate other people. They usually go way out of their way to pay their debts regardless of whether they have been paid or not, they do not shirk responsibility and put it on others, they stand on their word and their reputation, and understand what this entire thing is: Spiritual warfare and creativity in the elemental fire of artistic expression, and as such, they’re usually not that interested in applying selfish values universal problems.
There are others, quite the opposite of this, but I am not interested in them.
Emotional flexibility, can be learned by watching those who have mastered it, and some people seem to be born with it. It is the spiritual martial art of performing arts, the multilingual ability of artistic expression, and the heart yoga of the responsible adult in the arts.
The single most obvious trait of someone with uncommon emotional flexibility, is that they don’t freak out. They may say yes. They may say no. They may stay. They may pack up and leave, never to be heard from again.
But they don’t freak out, and they are not melodramatic about their successes and failures, or the harsh glare of an unfair fate, that seems to focus on them alone sometimes. (We tend to think in such dramatic terms quite a bit)
I have been blessed in my life, to have known quite a few of these people, and if they ever did freak out, they didn’t do it when I was around, perhaps understanding that they would set an example, and I have watched them with admiration, as they weathered all manner of storms, maintaining their dignity, work schedule, and artistic expression.
All of this, through their application, of uncommon emotional flexibility.
“Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times. . . . Your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. Take everything in stride with grace, putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly.”
– Ping Fu, Author of “Bend, not break”
©Piero Amadeo Infante, 2016, for the Tao Of Gigging