Behind the Mask

In most cultures there is a set of social standards, a sort of "status quo," that is established for that community. One example is the idea of what defines a male and a female, aside from their biological make up. When I was learning about what made me a "man," it had nothing to do with biology, but with characteristics given and shown to me through media, peers, authority figures, etc. Presently, this way of characterizing anything has become obsolete, because of the huge spectrum that has both been developed and realized, or expressed, within different communities. Take the expression of emotions. The "norm" is that men don't cry, but it's more "acceptable" today, even encouraged, for men to cry. Sadly though, the original labels that would define who we are as people, what we do or believe, etc, are still being perpetuated today, and seeing people diverge from these is still awkward to the majority, even threatening at some level. Nevertheless, if what defines me as person is different than the norm, in order to live a fulfilled and honest life, I must be and express myself as that, regardless. 

I believe that, as artists, we are tasked with showing people what it means to be human, and in order to do this, we first must find out what it means to be ourselves, and then fully realize and express that. One person may be naturally authoritative, another may have a knack for giving to others. Whatever the incarnation, each individual has an expression that someone else can't do exactly the same, because of how their lives differ, what their personalities are like, etc. And yet, every person can, on some level, relate to everyone else. We all feel pain, so when we use our artistry to demonstrate pain, it must come from, "How do I feel when I am in pain?" When the audience sees us do that, they hopefully will feel more comfortable with expressing it themselves; We show them that it is ok to feel these emotions. The barrier we have to break through in order to do this is that "status quo." What do I have to do, what do I have to be, in order to express to a man that, it's ok to cry, it's ok to feel vulnerable, it's ok to feel weak, and have them not judge themselves negatively for having those feelings? Of course we can't make people feel, but we have to do our best to express the art in hopes that it encourages people to follow suit. 

Again, this realization that, "it's ok to feel, it's ok to be 'me'" has to start with us as human beings, not as artists. Unless we allow ourselves the freedom to just be who we are, despite the social norms or what we are labeled as, we will never reach our full potential as human beings, as ourselves, and then as artists. Stereotypes are everywhere, and we all are affected by them whether we know it or not. Being more conscious of how we think or act, and whether they are of our own volition or not, will help with weeding out these "trained or manufactured" thoughts. This way, WE will define ourselves, not someone or something else. Only then can we actually create honest and pure art. If I took what certain people say about African Americans as a definition of myself, I probably would be very apprehensive in playing music, but because I do not subscribe to that, I am still creating music the way I want to. Or, if Serena Williams accepted that people thought women were weak or frail, she may not have trained as hard as she did, and then not have won so many tennis championships. Accepting anything that doesn't constructively add to your being is bad. 

Being a creator of any kind, we constantly put ourselves out there. Our product has our fingerprint on it, whether we like it or not, whether it's "good or bad." It's awkward and scary, why else do we get nervous? We wonder if people will like it, or "get it," and that fear of rejection imposes inhibitions on our expression. Letting go of whether or not people will accept us or our art, and just going for being yourself regardless of that, is the key to freedom from that fear and the gateway to uninhibited expression. It's by no means easy to do, though. We all have years of social constructs, labeling, and defined characters to sift through in order to even get to even the surface of who we are. Then we have to figure out a way to channel that into and through our art, while still exploring and learning about parts of ourselves in the process. After all of that, hopefully we can reach the audience and entice them to do the same, at least in those moments of performance, or observing a painting, or watching a dance production, or viewing a movie or play. We have to create the avenues, the audience will choose the ones they walk on, but we all end up at the same place, meeting ourselves.