It was New Year's Eve and she was dressed to the nines. Her white silk dress shone with simple elegance. And then, her drunken table partner spilled a carafe of red wine all over the table and down her gorgeous dress.
Expecting her to jump up, dab wildly at the wine, and spew expletives, I was stunned and filled with wonder as I watched her sit quietly. She did not attract more attention to herself, nor to her mortified partner.
I had just witnessed an act of gracefulness.
Two anecdotes about gracefulness in art
A British colleague, had the great fortune to meet Anthony Edwards, probably THE Royal Photographer (as in, yes, he photographs the Royal Family). Despite his decades of photography and his manifest skills, He was asking My Colleague's advice about photographing weddings.
She left the evening feeling all the richer for having spent time with him. She got on very well with him, enjoyed his company and was grateful for the chance to talk to someone so special, renowned, and talented.
Mr. Edward's humility was so genuine, it shone so brightly, who could not fail to like him?
It would be fair to say, He had made Her feel valued.
It happens to all of us...you put a piece of your precious work out into the public and someone wants to "help you make it better."
The artist had painted a field of flowers. A lady wrote to him, telling him that his flowers were the wrong color because she had seen these flowers. She would be happy to send her photographs of these flowers so he could correct his mistake.
Well, those moments are quite confounding aren't they? Just what is the artist supposed to do?
He chose to post a blistering response to the woman commenting on her ignorance about art and the artist's perogatives. And, sadly (in my opinion) several other artists supported his less than graceful attack.
There was no attempt to make the "benefactor" feel valued. If anything, the purpose was to make her feel less than valued.
Granted, it takes a major mind/heart shift to make a critic of your work feel valued.
But...it's not impossible.
Gracefulness in Motown
Did you know that all the Motown artists attended a finishing school? Yes...Barry Gordy, the genius that he was, made every singer learn the fine art of gracefulness. Gordy and Miss Maxine Powell understood the artists were rough and tumble teenagers from the streets.
Those kids had no idea how to negotiate social requirements, especially during the years of Jim Crow.
The success of the finishing school can be measured by the success of all those great singers, and groups. You know their names; Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - the list goes on and on.
The ultimate measure of learning how to be graceful?
Smokey Robinson prevented a "beat-down" of audience members by security guards - just by using his newly learned soft voice and gentle words.
That was "amazing grace"!
We have two choices as artists;
- we can be humble and kind,
- or we can live in a posture of defensiveness and attack.
To be humble and kind fills our hearts with peace, love, and joy.
To be defensive and attack keeps us in a constant state of unrest and turmoil.
And if, our choices affect those around us (as my colleague was affected by the humility of Mr. Edwards) how many other people will benefit from the radiance of that kindness?
Or, how many people will be hurt and suffer emotional unrest by the radiation of the anger and defensiveness?
And, really...does our world need any more anger and defensiveness?
I think not...I hope not...I pray not.
How do you want to feel in your artistic life?
The choice is yours.
Expect the best. Anything else is an adventure.
You can learn more about gracefulness in the book "The Art of Grace: On Moving Well through Life: by Sarah L. Kaufman.
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