Artistic Endeavors: Jill MacKenzie talks writing and art

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When we hear a person say, “I’m an artist,” we tend to think he’s a painter, a singer, a dancer, or a writer.  A purveyor of one specific left-brain talent, rather than a surveyor of many artistic endeavors.

In my YA novel, Spin the Sky, Magnolia is a contemporary dancer. She talks about wanting to transcend. She talks about wanting to win the show. In real life, there’s always been this bit of division between dancing as an art and dancing for competition. People used to think that you couldn’t have both, and if you wanted both than you probably didn’t want either — at least not bad enough. While I do think things have (thankfully) changed some in recent years, I’m not sure that everyone considers this drive to create art and this drive to create a new kind of life with art as the vehicle equal. So which is the real art? Art for art’s sake or art for the sake of transcendence?

Dancing — no matter the motivation — is a form of expression. And isn’t that what art is? For me, it’s a way to tell stories, release emotions, inhale reaction from those emotions. I felt all of this very strongly while writing Magnolia and her story, told half through her narration and half through her dance. And the reason I wanted to incorporate other arts into my writing is that music and dance have informed my writing as much as learning the craft of writing has. As for Magnolia, we don’t see her expressing herself in any other kind of traditional art other than dance. But if we examine Magnolia’s other passion — clam digging — we’ll see that though it’s not an art in the traditional sense, the way Magnolia and Rose approached clam digging with precision, dedication, and passion, it’s like it is an art, is a form of expression, as much as dance, music, writing is, too.

I spent most of my childhood dancing. Maybe not as seriously as Magnolia, but it was a huge part of whom I was back then. Simultaneous to all my years of dance, I was always writing stories. Short stories, long stories, stories told in pictures and stories that never were written down because they were meant to be spoken aloud. Some of my stories were in the form of dance. And some of them simply illustrated the music I was dancing to, giving visual to someone else’s lyrics. For me, it was all art.

I think if you were to look at some artists we know really well, artists that “made it big” or have a large social media presence, you’d find crossover in their arts, too. Michel Baryshnikov is one of the first people that came to mind for me here. We know him as an amazing dancer. But look at his life after his dance career came to a close. He became a thespian, an actor. Even more than that, he became an actor who played a light installation artist on TV. And what about Annie Leibovitiz, known for her incredible photography in the 70’s. But did you know that she wanted to be a painter—even studied to be a professional painter—before she ever started taking photographs? Jason Schwartzman is another one.  You know, the dude from Rushmore (if you haven’t seen it, remedy that STAT.) I’d definitely say he’s a wonderful artist in his genre. But did you also know that he’s a seriously influential music blogger in the Indie Rock music scene? It’s his passion. The music moves him. And I bet it actually moves him, too. None of these artists chose one medium over the other, because the combination, the blend of these arts informed them as artists and as people.

spin-the-sky-jill-mackenzieSo I guess my point here is that just because you do one art, consider exploring other arts and relationship of those arts. You might find that a second art—or even a third—might help you progress your skills in the first art, the one you set out to do. And if you feel in your heart that you’re an artist but haven’t yet found your medium, keep looking for it. I bet there are many out there you haven’t tried or don’t even know about. Like assemblage. Tapestry design. Manuscript illumination. Graffiti art. The list goes on and on and on…and hopefully art and the blend of different arts always will too.

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About Author

Jill Mackenzie

Jill Mackenzie, a Vancouver native, is an ex-ballerina and contemporary dancer. Now working toward her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Jill chasses between roles as part-time student, full-time mom, and always-writer. Though Jill no longer studies dance, she still tries to dance herself clean whenever she can. Currently she lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she spends her free time beach-bound with her husband and two beautiful daughters.

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