Friday, February 7, 2014

The Man Behind the Curtain

Mr. Marsh, my partner in Dromedary Press, visited my home yesterday to discuss some upcoming book projects. He knows there’s never a dull moment at my house, but I think yesterday he must have thought he’d wandered into the wardrobe department for a Terry Gilliam movie. My husband Duncan and I are in the throes of costume-making as we prepare for our trip to Venice later this month, and the floor and tables were strewn with go-go boots, gold lamé pants, and mile-high wigs. (For the record, those are all elements of Duncan’s costumes.)

Our meeting eventually ended up in my studio, me buried beneath a gargantuan skirt I was finishing up, my sewing aided by a pair of decidedly unglamorous reading glasses from the drugstore. Mr. Marsh said it reminded him of his favorite scene in The Wizard of Oz, the one where Toto draws back the curtain to reveal the man behind the magic, a frantic dreamer from Kansas who through smoke and mirrors has fooled everyone into believing he is a powerful wizard.

Even though Dorothy and her friends come to find out that magic exists despite a few levers and smoke machines, the moment in the studio got me thinking. As artists, each of us is the Wizard of Oz whenever we present our work to the world, and even moreso when we go online and offer up the curated pictures of our works in progress. It’s dreaming out loud, perhaps, and like in dreams, the behind-the-scenes pictures often have a gauzy, inscrutable quality that leaves our imaginations begging for more.

What our audience can’t see, scrolling through endless parades of spectacle on Instagram, or clicking through friends’ glowing updates on Facebook, is the blood, sweat, and tears it’s taken to get these works to whatever presentable stage they’re in, half-finished or not. A cropped and filtered jpg doesn’t capture the late-night hours spent making, remaking, reconsidering, starting over, questioning, conferring, futzing, fiddling, and finally arriving at a point of enough satisfaction that we’re ready to share a glimpse with our friends.

It used to be that as an artist, I could worry about what others thought or not, but I wasn’t truly putting my ego on the line until the gallery opening, by which time I was as ready as I’d ever be. Now I seize every moment of courage and turn it into a sharable snapshot for the Internet. It isn’t mandatory to do this, but the struggle to birth a new work of art often compels each of us to celebrate our tiniest victories a bit more publicly.

I can drive myself crazy wondering what my friends will think of my post, sometimes only after I’ve clicked it out into the world. And as a businessperson, there’s always the voice in the back of my head saying things like “Will my subscribers like this enough to comment on it?”, or “How much of my own art do Castle in the Air customers want to see?” Sometimes that takes a bit of the shine off the feeling of triumph I get when I’ve hemmed a skirt just right, or captured the perfect expression in a portrait.

But in the end, being an artist involves not only following my dreams into the waking world but sharing them with as many people as I can, and with that comes a certain amount of vulnerability. Same as it ever was.

Magic is real. Sometimes it flows easily and a project comes together with minimal fuss. Sometimes it’s an awful lot of work. But none of it happens effortlessly. The man behind the curtain will always be there, a clown in a wizard’s cloak, a foolish futzer who probably worries too much, and about the wrong sorts of things. He lives in each of us. He is a real and valuable part of who we are. Take good care of him.


Lisa Oceandreamer Swifka said...

This post resonates for me in so many ways.....thank you for saying it out loud!
I so hope you will share your costumes upon completion or at any stage. Venice - how magical.

Gail Spratley said...

Oh but this is always how it is with Magic and Art. People who are not artists see the finished product and exclaim, 'How talented you are!', never dreaming of all the intense concentrated work and thought that goes into the finished product. And then the courage it takes to show your creation to the world! Oh the courage to show this dearly conceived work of our imaginations! Yes, imagination, intense work and courage; it takes these, as well as talent, to be an artist.

m. bloom said...

so beautifully, well and perfectly said. thank you Karima!

bon voyage -- I hope you have a brilliant time in venice!