I've been thinking hard for the past month or so about this quote from the dance legend Martha Graham about staying true to your own personal voice in whatever you create.
Blogger James Clear recounts a story about Agnes De Mille, another dance legend in her own right in the 1940s, who was confused and troubled by the apparent randomness of her success and failures as a dancer. De Mille was vexed that some of what she thought her "best" work had received almost no recognition, while her middling work on "Oklahoma" garnered widespread critical and popular praise. She didn't know how to process it all. So she talked to Martha Graham.
Reportedly, Martha's reply was this:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
This really cuts me to the quick. What it says to me is you can't waste your time fretting about how others value the artistic work you are doing or comparing it to other's work in your field. That is what critics and the audience is for. Your main responsibility is being true to your personal expression and vision, because it is unique in all the universe, and if you don't instantiate it into the world, no one else will get to experience it.
You need to "keep the channel open." I like this so much. It says to me that inside of you is your truest, deepest, most authentic self, but that it takes constant effort to pay attention and listen to it.
Photo Credit: Nickolas Muray, "Portrait of Martha Graham" , Link. Public Domain.