Somewhere in the Middle (2019), directed by Nathan Ives

My wife, Meryl, is a wonderful mixed-media artist, using a combination of black and white photography, hand-dyed silks, and acrylic paints to create beautiful portraits of nature. But she would like to sell her creations, and there’s the rub. Although monetary rewards are not her primary motivation, she, like all artists, seeks validation of her craft and selling her work is an expression of that affirmation. This is the core narrative of Somewhere in the Middle, an engaging look at five very talented artists who have succeeded in their own idiosyncratic way to make a living doing the things they love.

Nathan Ives, the director, does not think the true artist is seeking fame and financial success alone. Most artists, those in the middle, simply want personal satisfaction by following their occupational dream. The artists interviewed in the film include Jasika Nicole, an actress who has a recurring role in the TV series “The Good Doctor,” painter Dan McCaw, paper sculptor Jeff Nishinaka, guitarist Aaron Tap, and folk-rock musician Griffin House.

Griffin House shares an incident that implicitly reminded him of his “middle-of-the-road” predicament. He had played to a sold-out crowd of 300 people at the City Winery venue in New York City when a couple approached him after the show. They said: “We just love your music and we know you’re going to make it someday.” When House heard this, he realized that fans did not realize that he had been working as a musician for two decades. He remarks: “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve got two kids, a house in Nashville, and I support my family.”

Ives, the director, said that this observation of House’s “really got me thinking about what success means as an artist, and how the general public views success as an artist.” The artists in the movie are not celebrities in the conventional sense, but they are not starving artists either. They are somewhere in the middle.

As a Jewish educator, Shulman brings God into the discussion, asking yourself if God has a great plan for you, or what is my mission in this world? The journey to finding the answer to those questions begins with one step. Shulman writes: “When the Jews were trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, one man – Nachshon Ben Aminadav – stepped into the sea and it split. To see the sea split in our own lives, we have to take that first step to implement the idea we believe in. By clarifying to ourselves what we are passionate about, we open channels of possibility. However, we only see change happen when we are willing to make that first uncomfortable step. Doing that one action – however inconsequential it may seem in achieving your dream – is what will help the sea split.”

Michael Shulman, a Jewish educator, writes about getting your dream job, a job that you truly enjoy and that enables you to make a living. He recalls his own confusing search for a vocation when he thought “If I am a unique individual, there must be some unique job that I am supposed to do. If I can get clarity on what I’m passionate about, perhaps my dream job will appear.” After some soul-searching, he concluded: “The limits of our belief in what we can do, limits the job we eventually find. When we dare to believe, we create our own job possibility.”

The artists featured in Somewhere in the Middle all made courageous decisions to take risks with regard to their vocational future. They did it because they did not define success in traditional terms, but in personal terms. When they came to the proverbial fork in the world, they took the less traveled path and that made all the difference in their lives.

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