Happy Monday, everybody! So, let’s get this Artist’s Way series started off right with a real smack in the face. Are you (or is some part of you) a shadow artist? The quote below is from Chapter One

… For many families, a career in the arts exists outside of their social and economic reality. “Art won’t pay the electric bill.” As a result, if the child is encouraged to consider art in job terms at all, he or she must consider it sensibly.

… Fledgling artists may be encouraged to be art teachers or to specialize in crafts with the handicapped. Young writers may be pushed towards lawyering, or into medical school because they’re so smart. And so the child who is himself a born storyteller may be converted into a gifted therapist who gets his stories secondhand.

Shadow artists often choose shadow careers — those close to the desired art, even parallel to it, but not the art itself. Noting their venom, Francois Truffaut contended that critics were themselves blocked directors, as he had been when he was a critic. Intended fiction writers often go into newspapering or advertising, where they can use their gift without taking the plunge into their dreamed-of career. Intended artists may become artist managers, and derive a great deal of pleasure from serving their dream even at one remove.

There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in this passage. But I’ll tell you what really hit me hard: the bit about teaching. We performers can think of teaching in two very different ways.

Version A: Teaching is a wonderful and rewarding way to make a stable, fairly well-paid living while you are pursuing a performance career. Your hours are flexible and you can control how much you teach. When you teach, you reinforce your own technical knowledge and practice habits by passing them along to others. Teaching advanced students challenges you to use your performing gifts. Teaching can give you access to institutional support: recital halls, recording time, professional development funds, etc. Plus, the kids are awesome.

(Saskia and Georgina, my first book 2/3 students ever.)

Version B: Teaching is emotionally exhausting and takes valuable energy away from pursuing a performance-centered career. Teaching can easily become a trap in which your autonomy disappears and your performing skills deteriorate. Teaching is like being a parent/therapist to twenty-five different families, some of whom may not fully appreciate the skill and passion you’re bringing to the challenges of your job.

Depending on when you ask me, I might be leaning more towards one version or the other.

Many of my performing colleagues are excellent teachers and seem to balance their responsibilities nicely. I myself have invested a lot of time in Suzuki training and teaching. I have a successful studio of wonderful kids, some of whom have been with me for years, and I enjoy working with them enormously.

But in some ways, The Artist’s Way is right on. My teaching load needs to be carefully managed if I’m going to realize my full potential as a violinist. Our Chicago Q Ensemble cellist, Sara, doesn’t teach at all, and while it’s a more financially perilous situation, she’s able to take fabulous performing opportunities when they come (like subbing with the Milwaukee Symphony — go Sara!). We performer-teachers have to be careful not to take on too many students. Increased financial security? Good. No flexibility to practice, dream, travel, reflect, or take risks? Bad.

(Teaching is a big responsibility and it's harder than it looks.)

What do you think? Every musician has a different set of goals, different priorities, and a different tolerance for risk/stress/poverty/compromise. Do we teachers really count as ‘shadow artists’?

P.S. — nobody’s paying me to say this, but you should probably buy this great book. Here.