Monday, 27 February 2017

For the Fools Who Dream: Lalaland and the Struggle of the Artist


What La La Land Means to Arts Students
Image Courtesy of On The Screen Reviews
An elegantly crafted whirlwind of show-tunes, dance numbers and visual splendour set against a dazzling Los Angeles backdrop, Oscar or no Oscar,  Lalaland is the quintessential aspiring artist story. And the balance between idealistic fantasy and grounded reality in the film reflects the struggle of being an artist and pursuing dreams within the inescapable constraints of the real world.

Like the characters in the film, young artists and students in the arts can attest to this struggle and being subject to cynicism and criticism from friends and family and society alike. Ditch the pipe dream. Art won’t pay the bills. Start looking for a steady job. A barista is the only job that your degree will get you.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling young actress with a job as a barista who’s faced nothing but rejection. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a brilliantly talented yet unemployed jazz pianist who’s hounded by his sister because he can’t pay his bills. It seems as if reality is slowly preparing itself to wrench them from their apparent fantasies but their dream keeps them both on their feet. And this dream is the same dream that millions of young artists have. It’s the same dream I have.

It’s the dream to live a life where you can put out and create work from your heart. It’s an incorruptible hope in a seemingly unattainable future and it’s something that is still as pure and genuine as it was when you first dreamt it as a child. Perhaps it may be forgotten or cast aside in heartbreak and disappointment or given up on at some point but it’s a dream that can never truly die.

Those who dream are often accused of being fools stuck in childhood fantasies. But the truth is, there’s nothing childish about knowing that the path ahead means being broke and risking everything everyday and still taking that path. There’s nothing foolish—although perhaps there is a little madness—in facing a colossal uphill climb of heavy heartache and deep disappointment and still climbing it to do what you love. Artists aren’t childish; they’re courageous.

In a world of entertainment that’s more and more becoming a place where real talent and actual artistic merit is valued less over commercial and economic success, the already slim chance of making it as a genuine artist has gotten thinner. Sebastian’s struggle to find his place as a traditional jazz pianist despite his prodigious talent, of course, is a reflection of the industry today. But nevertheless, the dream—even when it’s a shot in the dark—is a shot worth taking. Because when you’re an artist, the desire to do what you love beats straight from the heart and will continue to beat loudly in the face of all the failures, disrespect and disillusionment that you’ll face. When you’re an artist, you’d rather be starving than ever have to change your appetite.

As much as people mock artists for being foolish, flaky and flamboyant, the ironic truth is that the world needs art like it needs oxygen. People will always want to open that book, play that song, watch that movie and experience that age-old comfort of entering an imaginary world. They’ll need the sentimental stories, tear-jerking tunes and cherished characters and all the theatres and stages and concert halls to bring them together in an indescribable yet irreplaceable shared love of these works. Perhaps we should begin to admire the nerve and the struggle of all the travelling troubadours and the affecting actors and the poignant poets and the playful playwrights who created these works and were crazy enough to try.

At the end of Lalaland, Mia is called into an audition and the people sitting in the room ask her to simply tell them a story.  As she begins to tell them about her aunt who inspired her to be an actress, the scene transitions into a musical number and Mia sings:

Here's to the fools who dream

Crazy as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that break
Here's to the mess we make

Artists are storytellers and every piece of art tells a story. The beginning and the end of a relationship can be captured in a couple minutes of a song. The feelings felt within a lifetime can be evoked within three acts of a play. These things we create are amalgams of our ambitions, collages of our crises and mosaics of our memories.

Mia’s humiliations, failures and rejections and the deep and unequivocal passion for her craft and the dream that got her started are all exuded in this single performance. As the chorus picks up with a euphoric roar from an orchestra towards the end of the song, you can feel the hopes and heartaches of millions with her; the song is an anthem for the poignant journey of the artist. The journey is a beautiful mess. And I guess that’s what art is after all. A beautiful mess. So here’s to the fools who continue to dream.

Dream on La La Land
Image courtesy of The Nation

Jeremiah - YouAlberta Contributor

Jeremiah is a 2nd year English student. Originally from Canmore, he currently serves as a Residence Assistance in Lister Hall. A loyal Toronto Maple Leafs, he has a keen interest in literature and human rights and hopes to work in a field where he can be involved in social justice. In collaboration with his friends, he's created a social media anti-discrimination campaign called the World Mosaic Project.

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