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. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Is Your Voice Valuable? A Van Gogh Perspective [updated]

A snippet from my Van Gogh experience

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Have you ever worried about what other people think about your voice? In this post, I'm going to share a story from the life of Vincent Van Gogh that I hope will blow some fresh confidence under your wings. And, I'll share what I think what you have to do to earn your vocal worth, without depending on anyone else's opinion. Stay with me now... 

The Van Gogh Immersive exhibit that I went to in Nashville recently was a sensory symphony. As I sat in the middle of the gorgeous soundtrack and the artists' priceless paintings projected in video movement onto walls, ceilings and floors, I was reminded that sometimes greatness in art is not recognized when the art is created. I had a #1 song as an artist that had been written 10 years prior to my cutting it. Many movies failed at the box office only to become wildly successful in syndication. For the sake of the creative heart, an artist - no matter what the art form - needs to understand the value of their creations, even when public validation is missing. Is this true for you?

Let me ask you some questions:

  • Have you ever wondered if your voice is valuable? 
  • How do you make that determination? 
  • Whose opinion about your voice influences yours?
  • 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, acknowledgment, 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                                                                                 Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
into art history by his brilliantly creative hand, but mostly ignored by his contemporaries.

In his lifetime, Van Gogh's art was considered valueless - 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. 

Back to my young artist. After hearing the story, she stared at the Shoes painting almost crying 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 don't whine at not being commercially successful, and instead that we commit to learning business promotion strategies to become visible and reach our ideal audiences?
  • What if we are willing to ACCEPT that we may never in our lifetime know the full value of our work.
  • What if we stop making it about numbers of fans? What if we ACCEPT that there is deep value in our work if it changes the life of even one person in some way for the better? 
  • And finally: 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" - creating the right thing at the right time for the right cultural moment in history. 

The only thing we can do is to persistently choose to create something good, excellently. The voice only exists to deliver messages, so the voice being 'good' has to do with the power and importance of the message it carries. The Grammys, CMAs, Doves, record deals and standing ovations for speeches are gravy, ironically most often awarded to artists who don't limit the originality of their work to that which would win a talent 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 as an award-winning performer and teacher. 

I hope this post has given you food for thought, and maybe even some inspiration to dig a little deeper in your own creative well. I'd love to hear what stories YOU have that came to mind as you listened today. This podcast now has a Facebook Group where we can discuss All Things Vocal! Join us and share your insights. I believe it takes a village to be a voice that matters!

HEADS-UP - NEW TRAINING COURSE: Want a better speaking voice for the messages you want to deliver? I have a brand new online video training course for speakers... go to www.SpeakingVoiceTechnique.com and enroll today!  

 Here's a site to explore more of the art of Vincent Van Gogh 
Here is a PBS story about the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit

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