“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ― Winston S. Churchill
How artists motivate themselves has become a favorite topic of mine. I’ve started writing about some of the people who’ve stirred my past, present, and future creativity with a post called Motivation Monday, where I choose one of the writers, artists, or musicians I’ve gotten the biggest lift from. But lately I’ve had a hard time choosing one because so many motivate for so many different reasons. I’ve recently realized the artists who consistently give me the energy boost I need are the ones who persevere against the oppression of prejudice off all kinds, including race, gender, and jealousy, to name a few.
Last week I was reminded of the beginnings of Dance Theater of Harlem, founded fifty years ago under the co-directorship of Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook. Watching the gorgeous lines and movement of those dancers so long ago when the school started, it’s hard to imagine what a crushing blow it must have been to have that kind of talent and passion only to be told you couldn’t do what you wanted to because your skin was the wrong color. It seems ridiculous to imagine today, but that’s because of the resolution of those dancers then.
I’m absorbed by all the female musicians of the past century who struggled with the prejudice against women performing in public, an issue I deal with in my novel Certain Liberties. But in particular, Amy Beach fascinates me because she was married to a prominent surgeon who insisted she perform only once a year and publish very little until he died. That particular suppression seems multi-faceted, and the fact that she rose to such heights later in life after her husband’s death was a miracle to me. How can one keep the glow of artistic creation alive for over fifty years so that it’s still fresh and ready to ignite when the moment finally arrives?
Robert Schumann was often ridiculed for NOT BEING AS TALENTED AS HIS WIFE (there’s a switch). The much celebrated Clara was promoted, or one might suggest exploited, by her father as a child and gained world renown through his sponsorship, as much as her skill. Was it an intellectual kind of snobbery that made people compare her husband to her, a husband much criticized by her father? Or was it some kind of jealousy excluding the possibility of two such gifted musicians inhabiting the same space at the same time, as different as they were? I remember the first time I read a critique of Robert’s piano playing in comparison to his wife’s, and learned of the way he pushed himself to compete with her notoriety even as the earth’s most beautiful creations poured out of his own head.
So many different kinds of obstacles, all born of subjective prejudice and discrimination, can squash the oxygen out of an artist’s passion for work. That’s why the ones who persevere under the weight of that pressure motivate me the most, and there are too many to mention without leaving out all the others who matter. I thank them all, from the very bottom of my creatively oxygenated heart.