What if you like to play piano or sing? What if you aren’t particularly good at other things, are shy and don’t really know what to do with yourself? What if you are from a middle class family of people who “have money” and are all college graduates? What if they expect you to go to school and get a job when you are done with college? What if, basically, you don’t have much in the way of direction or motivation, but you understand you don’t really want to be a bum and you don’t have a trust fund to support you for the rest of your life? What if you just keep taking music or voice lessons because they can afford it and you end up being “OK” in one or both of those skills?

What if, indeed.

Many many people are in such circumstances. Many people with a modicum of talent take lessons of various kinds and develop enough skill to be “pretty good”. If the skills are artistic ones, like playing an instrument, acting, dancing, painting, or singing, you can probably find a school that offers you a college degree in your favorite discipline. There are many kinds of programs and many kinds of colleges. Some of them are very competitive, large, located in cities and aimed at those who have a clear shot at having a professional career in their chosen discipline. Others are middle sized with programs or degrees that are respected and have students of moderate to excellent ability who may or may not go on to performance or activity as a professional. Some schools are small, have students who are not likely to be accepted by other schools but who offer decent general education in various artistic areas. These graduates are not the ones who will go on to become famous, but they may have professional engagements in small venues, smaller cities or rural locations. There is nothing wrong with any of this, in theory at least.

If you know that you are only modestly talented and that you are not competitive and that you would like to avoid being a “starving artist” for 10 years, and you also know that you like stability and would like to have a “nice middle class” life with all its various trimmings (two or three TVs, a new car now and then, clothes, travel, etc.) you might also confront early on that you are better off not entering the marketplace and, in fact, staying home and building whatever you can there. That’s fine. It’s better to know who you are and what you want then flail around being miserable. There is nothing wrong with going through school to get a doctorate, finding a job at some college you like, and making your life there for 30, 40 or even 50 years. In fact, I imagine that is what the majority of people in “the arts” end up doing or trying to do because, obviously, there are more people who want to perform (or create) than there are jobs that pay a decent amount of money upon which to build a life.

The problems arise when someone in such a situation can’t stay at a school because the department gets phased out, or the head of the department wants to hire a friend who will take your job, or because your partner or spouse gets a better job in another place and you want to stay together so you move, or your partner or spouse gets sick and you have to move for health reasons. Really, the list, as we all know, is endless. Rarely does life work out that smoothly. It could even be that after 15 years you are just bored and want a change. Anything can happen.

If you have not done anything to “keep up your skills” or stay on top of the latest developments in your field, as would be required if you were in a licensed profession like medical doctor, speech language pathologist, lawyer or any of a dozen other fields, you might only know what you learned while still in school. If you haven’t done due diligence, you could have no awareness whatsoever of the standards of your profession as they are held at the highest levels (even in the colleges) of the any part of the profession.

What does a classical vocalist need to know and be able to do in order to have a career in opera (as really, there is no possibility of having a career doing recitals unless you are already famous), or oratorios, orchestral works or recordings? What does a music theater performer need to be able to do in order to have a chance at a career in New York, LA, London, Toronto, Sydney or any other major venue or in a national tour? What does a dancer need to be able to do to get into a dance company, whether it be a ballet company, a modern dance troupe, or some other kind of dance (Latin, tango, African, etc.), or to be able to get into a music theater show?

What kind of life experience and exposure do you have to any of the arts at the highest professional levels if you have not yourself been in them, seen them, worked with those artists, dealt with that aspect of the business or had contact with the marketplace in any way? There are some things you just cannot learn in school.

There is one more possibility.

You don’t have much talent yourself but you come from a talented, famous or wealthy family that has “connections”. You maybe learned to play piano or an instrument, or dance, or have done some acting, but, because of your station in life, you “hang out” with other people who are successful at a very high level. Eventually, for the same reasons as I discussed at the beginning of this post, you can kinda sorta do some stuff with one of your skills and you get invited to do something with it with one of your friends who just happens to be the daughter, son or protege of “Mr. Big” or “Ms. Famous”. Low and behold, you get noticed, you have some success, and you begin to get offers from other people who either (1) don’t know the difference between good and bad or (2) don’t care or (3) are themselves equally clueless as to their own lack of ability. [Of course this is true everywhere. Could be that dad is a big lawyer and you get to be a partner even though your own legal skills are dreadful. You could be the son of a President in a family from the highest part of society and you find yourself running for office and…..oops, sorry.] Next thing you know, you (the mediocre one) is now touted as being “successful” or “important” and your career begins to grow. Sooner or later someone is going to ask you to TEACH.

You know the rest. If you don’t, just read some of my old posts.

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