My husband told me this poster wasn’t so far off the mark. Many Soviet-trained musicians immigrated to Israel and it was common to see these world-class musicians busking on the streets. There were simply not enough orchestra seats in the country to accommodate all of the incoming talent.
This got me thinking about the price we pay, as artists, for our art. When does the price become too high? Although in some ways the Soviet Union was ideal for artists, many were stifled: denied religious, sexual, or political freedom, not allowed to manage their own careers, censored. For some musicians, it was obviously better to be busking in Israel than having a glamorous concert career back home.
Here is the U.S. the price for artists is very different. There is the money/time trade-off: do you get a day job for money and then run low on time, or do you take the time for your art and embrace possible financial insecurity? Can you achieve the dream of being successful enough to have both time and money? Or can you find a compromise between the two like I did? There is the rejection price: lots of hard work, often for years, with very little recognition or reward beyond that of the creation itself. There is the voice of public opinion, wondering at the value of what you do, telling you that you’re wasting your time, confused as to why it’s taking you so long to become “famous”. There is the pedestal-pit price of everyone either telling you how what you do is impossible (“I could never sing”) or how what you do is so simple (“I’ve always thought I could write a book”), to the point that it becomes hard to explain that art is rarely either impossible or simple, consisting mostly of a lot of hard work.
American artists complain about all these prices a lot, and that’s fine. We’re letting off steam so we can go back and focus on our work. Or we’re commiserating with one another. Or we’re educating the public and trying to change the necessary prices. But overall, I think we’re lucky. I can write a book including controversial interpretations of American history or compose an opera on the evils of capitalism, and I won’t be thrown in jail. I can believe what I want and talk about it ad nauseam on my publicly accessible blog.
Sure, the price can still become quite a hardship sometimes. But we all have a choice about what priorities we’ll set, and we can even change our minds later on if it’s not working out the way we hoped. I’ll choose the life of that violinist wandering around in the dark every time. The confusion in the dark makes the art even more valuable in my eyes.