Creativity of one sort or another is in the DNA of my people. Visual arts, performing arts — the bases are covered on both sides of the gene pool. So one might assume that my sister and I have each had wild and lifelong experiences bopping around from discipline to discipline.
But we don’t.
My sister is a first-rate textile artist. I’m an award-winning performing songwriter, and before that a working actor in NYC. What I think we’ve both come to realize is that we were tracked this way.
This is how I remember it: as young children, my sister and I were encouraged to explore any creative path we wished. I know that I tried it all — acting, music, visual arts, dance.
I’m a shitty dancer, but I excelled at other disciplines. I began guitar lessons in the 3rd grade. In 8th grade I played the lead in Pirates of Penzance (yes, that would be Frederic). In 9th grade I won a Scholastic Art Award for a still life in charcoal and some other award from a ladies flower club for a watercolor. In 10th grade, I played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” by ear after seeing The Sting–and I had not taken a piano lesson (though mom got us both in front of teachers after that). I loved each discipline equally; for me, they were all worthy of pursuit.
My sister found her own path. She was not a happy performer and didn’t glom to music like me, but she had a rare gift for visual arts. It was unquestionably her passion.
So something had to shift because family dynamics are complicated. Every child deserves to find and stand in his or her own spotlight. I had several spotlights, but my sister had a singular, powerful one. And without even noticing it, somewhere around the 10th grade, I was “tracked” towards performing arts, while the path was cleared for Vic to take familial ownership of the visual arts.
And we’ve pretty much owned our respective roles in these areas well into adulthood.
She and I have talked about this in recent years. We marvel at it. There was no right or wrong about it. And I’m not sure if my parents were even conscious of the messages we received: Jean, you are so good on the stage. That’s where you belong. Vicki, your gift is clearly in your drawing.
Mind you, I’m not complaining! Had I been the parent, I probably would have said the same thing. I know I’d want all of my children to be able to nurture a gift that’s all theirs, without competition or rivalry.
And we were genuinely encouraged to pursue our specialized fields. I majored in theater, and my sister went to art school. And I’m bloody grateful that mom and dad didn’t put a fight when I moved to NYC. They just wanted me to learn to type fast, too.
But here’s the point: in our family, specialization began at home, probably as a mechanism for family peace around the dinner table. And I bet that’s pretty common. You can substitute sports or something else for arts, but when you get down to it, the message is the same.