Creating, Not Competing

Graceful ballet dancer or classic ballerina dancing isolated on grey studio background. Woman with the pink silk cloth. The dance, grace, artist, contemporary, movement, action and motion concept.

People say that art is a way to “express yourself.” Then why don’t I do it for myself? 

As a child, the arts were an outlet for me. I was completely authentic to myself while dancing or playing the piano, and I simply did it to have fun. During summer dance performances in 2012 or 2013, you’d hear nothing but squealing and excited whispers from the dancers backstage. Of course, I was one of those dancers. All dolled up in makeup and pretty, sparkly costumes, my friends and I were a bundle of energy before heading on stage for our piece. Being under the bright stage lights in front of the entire audience and of course, “the big girls,” was exhilarating, albeit a little nerve-racking. We leaped and turned without a care in the world. As for piano, I’d look forward to when my teacher would instruct me by way of various games and activities. Additionally, while I played a piece, she would play an accompaniment to help me through it. Outside of lessons, my mom would sing along to the themed pieces while I practiced, leading to an abundance of giggles. Now, as I reflect, I wonder where these bright moments went. Are they simply a matter of the past?

Growing up is inevitable, and so is the fact that reality will hit us like a bunch of bricks. Haven’t we all heard that? Aren’t we tired of it? As I grew older, I began participating in dance auditions for leading roles. I took part in nationwide piano examinations. While these activities may seem benign, it is clear that the basic principle of both is to compare one student to another. Every time I didn’t receive the lead role or score I had hoped for, my self-esteem plummeted further. My sense of my own capabilities spiraled, and what was left of my once-burning passion for the arts barely carried me through. I couldn’t find joy in classes and rehearsals; I even found myself making excuses to get out of them. This certainly was not the future young Katie had envisioned. 

As academics became harder and more time-consuming, I needed to realize my priorities. I had to seriously take into consideration my participation in the arts. Was I aimlessly doing it for others? Because if so, it would be a major waste of my time. However, admitting to that sounded awful in my mind. How could the arts, something which I’ve adored for so long, be a waste of time? Breaking myself away from this idea, I realized that all along, I had been comparing my abilities to those of others. How I measured up to others was a major contributor to my contentment with my own progress. How I defined success in the arts was forced by this unrelenting idea of comparison. Only when this began to take a toll on me did I finally realize I was living with an incredibly unhealthy mindset. I had to realize that everyone is on their own path: the individual nature of the arts allows one to focus solely on their progress and how they compare to yesterday’s version of themselves.

The arts, like any other mode of expression, present the opportunity to find one’s own unique style. They provide a chance to dig into one’s own creativity and find personable ways of drawing, sculpting, playing, moving, etc. Arguably, the most beautiful part of the arts is one’s individual choice to share their findings and creations; some may choose to present their masterpieces to the world, while others prefer to keep them within. There should be an emphasis on a willingness to think beyond, to be consistent in practice, and to do what simply feels right, but there is no emphasis on competition or comparison. No rule book exists containing any such guidelines that suggest one way of producing art is “better” or “worse” than another. There simply is just producing, revising, and creating. 

As kids, we saw through rose-colored lenses, using art as an expressive outlet and for pure entertainment. However, simply because reality hit and the competitive nature of society came into view, doesn’t mean our creative outlets needed to become any less beautiful. They should still serve as a land you can escape to, regardless of how you may be feeling. As for me, it’s safe to say I’ve regained my love for the arts here at Swarthmore. I’ve found noncompetitive environments that allow me to boundlessly experiment and create with art. My ballet technique class is the beacon of my week. A class in Lang Music awaits me during my time at Swarthmore. I’m learning to find that joy I lost through various competitive environments in high school, learning to embrace the individual yet supportive nature of the arts. A life without competition is impossible, but I find it important to know when it’s alright to disregard that for a little while. 

I didn’t always give art the credit it deserved. However, I can assure myself that now, I do. 

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