Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How Valuable Is Your Voice? Van Gogh's Shoes Perspective

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wondered if your voice has value? Have you ever worried that you will never be successful with your music or speaking career? Check your pulse, you're human. Most people who choose to work in any of the arts struggle with questions of validation. Encouragement, acknowledgement, attention, applause, approval - these are like sunlight to the vulnerable, creative spirit offering up what it just made for the sometimes cruel and/or ignorant contemporary opinion. We can control what we choose to create, but not how our creation will be received or perceived.

A chance encounter with a painting from Van Gogh gave me a perspective that I'd like to pass on to you. 

I was visiting the house of my friend string player/arranger Kris Wilkinson several years ago with a young singer/songwriter I was vocal coaching and producing. We brought tracks to Kris to get her string magic on them, and when we entered her house we noticed a print of a painting of shoes by Vincent van Gogh on Kris's wall. As we studied it, Kris shared one interpretation of why he painted these oddly beautiful dilapidated old shoes. He lived with his brother and was too poor to afford a live model, so he used what he had on hand. Common objects like flowers and shoes were etched into art history by his master hand, but mostly ignored by his contemporaries.

Van Gogh considered his work valueless. During his lifetime, he was essentially a commercial failure. Now, of course, those works are considered priceless. A singer named Eva Cassidy had a similar fate. During her lifetime, she sang cover songs in clubs and small auditoriums, and recorded them in a barter for dog-sitting services she offered the engineer. After she died from cancer, those recordings became a worldwide success. Her iconic renditions of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", "Autumn Leaves" and other cover songs were internationally acclaimed and her "demos"  chosen for soundtracks of several hit movies. 

My young artist almost cried at the injustice that neither Van Gogh nor Cassidy knew the value of their work, because it touched her own insecurity. What if she, too, never experienced success with her music? 

It occurred to me to see it a completely different way. What if, bravely listening to our own muse...
  • We CREATE something that we intuitively KNOW is good - a vocal, a song, a speech, a performance.
  • What if we SHARE our work with a small circle of accountability that could give us feedback to make it the best it can be in final form...
  • but we DON'T rely on popular opinion or current market forces to rate our work or determine the final form we settle on. 
  • What if we are willing to ACCEPT that we may never in our lifetime know the full value of this work.
  • What if we TRUST that if we create something good the best we can, IT IS VALUABLE?
The value of music or any other art cannot be determined by the initial marketplace reaction to it. There are forces we can't control, including the ripple effect, the ears of the future, the compound effects and "luck" - the hand of the Creator that assigned us our muse in the first place.

The only thing we can do is to persistently choose to create something good, excellently. The voice only exists to deliver messages, so vocal 'good' has to do with the power and importance of the message carried. The Grammys, CMAs, Doves, record deals are gravy, mostly awarded to artists who didn't limit the originality of their work to that which would win a current competition. But as far as the intrinsic value of your work... bravely create your best. If you want to make it commercially successful, market and promote it with due diligence (see my 3-part series about What Record Labels Want, Steps To Attracting Label Interest and Creating Fanbases ). But no matter what the financial rewards or critical acclaim garnered, trust that your good work created excellently is a priceless part of the music of the spheres.

Oh, and yes... my young artist now makes a good living in music, an acclaimed success as performer and teacher. 

Update: Here's a site to explore more of the art of Vincent Van Gogh 

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