Take Your Seat

575. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Avery was upset. He plays clarinet in the middle school band. There is a hierarchy of placement when you play in a band: musicians occupy chairs according to a ranking, so, for instance, the first violin occupies the first chair and all other violinists compete to get to the first chair. Avery moved from fourth chair to the third; the person he displaced challenged him in an attempt to regain the third chair. It is a competition system – or, in the words of James Carse, a finite game. In a finite game someone must win and someone must lose. Finite games are worse than useless for an artist. Artistry is about mastery, not about winning.

Competition can support mastery and it takes an excellent teacher to facilitate this process. Avery was upset because he didn’t know why he was moved forward. After the challenge, when he was moved again to the fourth seat, he had no idea why. There was a challenge, they competed, someone won and someone lost. The band director offered no feedback. It seemed arbitrary and Avery was left wondering what he could “do” to “win” the next challenge. His focus was not on being a better player. His energy was not dedicated to learning his instrument or to making music with others. His band teacher was reinforcing separation through competition and not artistic collaboration through mastery. The arts are about joining and communal experience; artistic fulfillment cannot be reached through separation.

I shared with Avery a piece of advice that a great theatre teacher once shared with me. He told me that I had to master my craft so that I could be “director-proof.” What he meant by that was that there were many directors and teachers in the world who would work to pit me against my fellows as a way of getting a result. I might attain the result but it would cost me my artistry because I would now be focused on an outcome and not on a relationship. My teacher knew that to keep an artistic fire burning the artist must know within him or herself whether their work was good or not; any external measure was useless.

Great actors audition every day and only seldom get cast. Their artistry dies if they are playing a finite game, if they are playing to win or afraid of losing. Mastery is an infinite game that is meant to make the artist a better and better artist. A great community of artists knows how to push and support each other in mastery; there is no such thing as losing if your intention is to become better and better at playing.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you…

  2. Yup…

  3. And I used to play with people who tried to get to the end first! Ha!

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