Tuesday, March 04, 2014

the he(art) of the matter with Will Smith

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How do we define "artist"? Who is an artist? Why do artists do what we do? And does it matter how we do it?

Regardless of the medium we use, be it paint or performance or prose, in the end I believe it comes down to one thing. 

It comes down to heart. 

One of the fun things about growing up a night owl in the 70s and 80s was watching Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Talk shows aren't exactly considered high art, but there was definitely an art to the way Johnny did it. 

He was funny. And he gave us a window into the world of entertainment and into the people who captured our imaginations. Johnny interviewed many different kinds of people, from Tim Conway to Placido Domingo. 

No matter who he was interviewing, he seemed interested in who they were and in making them look good. He seemed to care about them and about us. We liked him because he had heart.

I haven't been a night owl for many years. Maybe because, even with 1500 stations and 24/7 programming, there hasn't been much worth watching to keep me up past midnight. 

Now that Jimmy Fallon has taken over the Tonight Show, I'm mighty tempted to become a night owl again.

I didn't see his first broadcast live because I fell asleep. Luckily we have this modern Internet thing and I was able to go online and catch up. I'm glad I did. 

Hello, "Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing" with Will Smith? 


But the interview was even better. 

Moving from his own show to hosting The Tonight Show was a pretty big deal, even for Jimmy Fallon. Faced with this huge responsibility, Jimmy asked Will Smith if he had any advice for him on how to handle the pressure of hosting The Tonight Show. 

Will's answer was spot on. (1:45)
"The Tonight Show is big and it's historic...but people are coming for you, because of your heart."
Isn't that why any of us should pursue our art? Whether it's painting or storytelling or playing music or interviewing celebrities, there is more to it than just the publicity and the acclaim and the big paycheck. Because let's be honest - if that was all there was to it, most of us wouldn't qualify. Or bother.

Jimmy asks Will if performing ever gets scary for him. He said it did, especially with his kids coming into "the business."  

So what advice does he give his kids to keep them focused, keep them grounded? 
"I tell them all the time, 'You just keep loving people...your art is a GIFT to people, to help their lives be BETTER and to be BRIGHTER'...." (2:45, emphasis mine)

His advice really hit me. I have a constant struggle with trying to please. Maybe you can relate.

Often when writing, I find myself censoring my content before it makes it out of my head and onto the paper. I think about who might read it, who might like it, who might not.

That's a real good way to go nowhere fast.

I've always liked Will Smith but never exactly thought of him as an artistic, quotable guy. But I'm going to print those words in big type and post them above my desk where I have to look at them. 

Because that's the kind of advice I think all parents should give their kids, and all artists of every stripe would do well to heed.
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