Grief and the Artist
Grief, unfortunately, is something that I believe many artists are all too familiar with. What’s even more difficult still is that sometimes our grief isn’t easily understood at a surface level. Sure, we are disappointed when we miss out on a role, we don’t get into a YAP, or when we are rejected from a school or a conservatory. But I think our surface level disappointment with rejection belies a more complicated and sometimes less tangible level of grief - one that intermingles with the ephemeral nature of our careers. That is to say I think we grieve possibilities, opportunities, and what might have been. At least, I think I do.
Maybe I seek out an impossible completeness in this art form. I see opportunities and experiences as puzzle pieces that I’m afraid I’ll somehow seem incomplete without. Very rarely have I been disappointed about not getting a role or not getting into a master class, but I have grieved the growth and learning that might have come from it. Perhaps it is the missed-mark of my own expectations that causes additional distress. How could I have improved? What moments were created that will never happen again?
Maybe I grieve joy and the security we once felt in thinking that nearly every concert, production, audition tour would take place (mostly) as-planned. That we would be in a theater again. That our careers could have some sort of perceptible direction. The past few years have taught us to grieve performances, events, spaces, and practice structures that we may have taken for granted as artists, and many of us (myself very much included) struggled to find a true center to balance on.
We can’t live in what-ifs, what could have-beens, and maybes. But we can live with them, and process them, and mourn them. The miraculous thing that comes at the end of grief is renewal. Sometimes it’s small, like a slight human bitter-sweetness that brings new discernment to an aria. Sometimes it’s larger, like watching our dreams and goals shift and change. Grief is a painful companion, but it matures us and offers lessons in humility, resilience, and honesty. Alongside it, hope, somehow, does seem to spring eternal.
Readers, this week I have no advice. No real tips or tricks. All I can tell you is that in times of grief, I grasp onto what I can. For me and so many others, that thing is nature. Visceral, physical, real nature. No, I’m not the most out-doorsy type, but even a walk in a park on a shaded trail or an afternoon by a lake can do the artistic soul a lot of good.
As we head into what may be an uncertain fall and winter, albeit (and thankfully) one filled with some promise, find something or somewhere that grounds you and inspires you. This can even be a place where the trees cast an interesting shadow on the ground or a particular patch of flowers. If you’re participating in the 30-Day Practice Challenge, I might also encourage you to think about or seek out this space as part of your routine.
Selve amiche, ombrose piante/ Friendly forests, shady plants
Fido albergo del mio core,/ Faithful shelter of my heart,
Chiede a voi quest’alma amante/This loving soul asks of you
Qualche pace al suo dolore./Some peace from my grief.
- Preston Hereford