Recently I got the chance to go to a student showcase at the studio I’ve been attending out here in Seattle, Emerald City Trapeze. The showcase was a performance of advanced students, not professionals, but those students had to audition and perform at a level far beyond my own scope of expertise. Performances included a groups flying trapeze act which I loved, several silks routines, a hammock routine, and two rope performances.
Before I started taking classes in circus arts, I would have had no context for the performances. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed things like Cirque du Soleil and similar excursions, but when I went to those shows I was dazzled as much by the glitter and glamour of circus as I was by the skill, which registered merely as “godly” and therefore unattainable. I suspect this is most people’s relationship to circus, and to many other art forms for that matter. If you’ve never tried and failed to draw, I don’t think you can appreciate the technical aspects of putting pen to paper and forming intricate, impossible designs so easily either. Watching time-lapse videos of TikTok painters has certainly improved my appreciation of paintings, almost as much as my old art history classes did, and I can’t pretend that my hands have ever been so steady.
I have heard it said before by some that learning how to do a thing makes witnessing or observing the thing less enjoyable. This has not been my experience. Seeing how some art form has done enriches the whole process for me. After watching the Protege Show, which was a delight, I immediately signed up for a beginning rope class. Not because I hadn’t enjoyed the performances. On the contrary, I loved them, and I wanted to know what the apparatus felt like in my hands. The next time I watch someone do rope, I will know the friction and pinch of the wraps, the bounce of the cord. I will appreciate the glamour as well as the effort.
I feel this way about novels as well. When I began writing, I had a certain amount of talent. We all do. With effort, we polish it into something sharper, brighter, but really can we do that without watching others? I read for years before I began to write. I wrote for years before I began to write well. Now that I’m (mostly) writing well, or at least better, I am learning more from the reading. A book I love might be read or analyzed again and again, looking for the pieces that make it tick. It doesn’t make the reading any less enjoyable. It gives me a new depth of enjoyment. I can appreciate an artistic decision an author made, can appreciate the set-up of a next book or the choice to tie up loose ends in a way that is either happy or sad or, often, somewhere in between.
This is, perhaps, maturity. Not in an art-form per se — I still am not particularly good with a paintbrush and my acrobatics skills leave much to be desired. Instead, let’s say it’s maturity as an artist — seeing the tricks others perform and judging them by both aesthetic and intent. Knowing that, if you want to, someday you might achieve the same. With enough time and effort, anyway.
Never let me say that art is not hard work.