Last weekend my husband Kevin and I drove down south of Boston to enjoy a live performance by Steve Bell, Canada’s folk-gospel troubadour and treasure. Since Kevin and Steve were already friends, we arrived at the venue early enough to have a nice visit and a bite to eat before the performance. Although I had only just met him, I felt like I was sitting around the living room chatting with my older brother. We touched on a range of subjects – from family and kids to rock icons to generational poverty to youth mentoring – all while we ate our subs and carrot sticks.
Later, as we watched Steve perform, it felt the same, like it was a small family gathering (although there were over 100 people in the audience) chewing the fat and enjoying good music. Earlier we had been talking about performers who are surprisingly shy, whose comfort being in front of an audience ended as soon as one on one human interaction was required. We imagine them, in their celebrity, as being bigger than life. We read into their profound lyrics a fiery prophet-like quality we expect of them in person. It a strange disconnect when that intensity translates as reserve, or something else entirely – something close to an awkward passivity.
Watching Steve, I didn’t have that sense of disconnect. In fact, it was quite the opposite: his performing self and his casual conversation were identical, seamless. It made me think, suddenly, “WYSIWYG!” What-you-see-is-what-you-get. Some people, like Steve, are seemingly all out there. What you see and what I see and who he projects on stage and who he is when no one is watching – it’s all the same. Sure, there may be certain private aspects that he keeps to himself. But the same corners are tucked away all the time. It’s refreshing and simply profound at the same time.
But there’s another kind of WYSIWYG. It’s the “what you see” with the emphasis on you. There are many performers and artists – many people – like that. We connect with a part of their minds through their work, their art, so we think we know them. We build up an idea of the artist based on who we need or want her to be; we take the part to be the whole and create a not entirely accurate construct of the performer. It’s not necessarily the artist’s fault or intention.
In fact, it’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.
There are varying degrees of self that any one person can give away. Artists/poets/performers do not need to be fully known by us, and a healthy sense of boundaries, I would argue, is good for all of us. One may be that second kind of WYSIWYG person, giving us just what we see, what we need to see. He may be presenting to us the rare prophetic voice, a true and public offering, and saving the casual down-time self for a few familiar friends. Performers put true pieces of themselves out there, but they don’t give it all away. Even those who seem to put it all out there seamlessly– like Steve – have enough self-respect, I’m certain, to keep a bit back for the silence.
Speaking as a performer of sorts – a poet, blogger, writer putting my own “art” out there for public scrutiny on a fairly regular basis – I would ask the reader to keep that in mind. Recognize that my work represents a piece of who I am or who I was at a moment in time when it was created – or maybe it is a memory of who I used to be. Sure, you will see themes in my work, begin to recognize my favorite patterns. And what you see is indeed what you get, each and every time. You will find what you are looking for.
On the other hand, if you’re not looking for it, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it.