“Everything you’re ashamed of, all the parts of yourself that you keep secret, everything you want to change about yourself — it’s who you are. That’s your power. Deny it and you’re nothing.”
— Charles S. Dutton; as Mr. James Dowd to his student, Malik, Fame 2009
The remake of Fame was on last weekend. I remember the first one and avoided all the hype for the remake, so didn’t see it when it first came out. I liked the original. It came at a time when I was in High School and had dreams of going to art college. Most of my friends at the time were in the Drama Club and, like many kids in the performing and fine arts, Fame became an anthem for us.
Back then, the message for my teenage mind was all about fitting in, getting that lucky break, living forever. Watching the remake, I came away with a very different message and it came with one particular line.
In one scene, the acting professor, Mr. Dowd, played by Charles S. Dutton, was trying to reach a particularly tough student, Malik. The boy had a chip on his shoulder a mile wide. Malik wanted fame, he wanted to make something of himself and rise above the tough street life that shaped him and brought him to the school to begin with. Malik wanted to bury that part. Mr. Dowd stopped Malik in his tracks when he said, “Acting is not for cowards.”
That made me think. That one quote applied to all the arts, not just acting. Singers write and sing songs expressing their views and emotions, painters paint their pain and joy, and writers…we write ourselves.
Artists lay their souls bare for the world to see and at the same time, try to stay as private as they can. Many of us are solitary creators. We work alone, but at the same time, crave attention and approval. We dream of the day we stand on the stage awash in the spotlight, to a standing ovation in a packed stadium, or attend a book signing to record crowds wrapped a mile long around a city block.
But to do that, we often have to reveal parts of ourselves we’d rather not have see the light of day. We bury that part in symbols and characters, all of them pieces of ourselves. Our careers are a fine balancing act. What do we keep private, what do we share? Will our audience see through the veil of characters, notes and colors and know us for who we really are?
Art takes courage, it’s not for the faint of heart. If you want to make your work real, you have to BE real. You can’t evoke true emotion in your audience unless you’re willing to first face those emotions yourself. Anything less, and the piece comes off as flat or contrived.
Are you a Courageous Artist? How much of yourself do you share with your audience? Where do you draw the line?