Apr. 27, 2016

When We Have Art

"One who works with his hands, is a laborer.
Once who works with his hands and his head, is a craftsman. One who works with his hands, his head, and his heart, is an artist."
-- Saint Francis of Assisi

Art means different things to different people; the word implies the conscious use of skill and creative imagination -- something which involves intuitive and analytical depth of perception or discernment or discrimination -- and, it's safe to say that, when any of these conditions are satisfied, the majority of people would agree that this is when we have art.
As it turns out, they'd be leaving out one very critical point ...
Let's say, we've worked on that organ piece long and hard, we can play it now from memory, note for note at concert tempo, and we know it thoroughly.
It's someone else's writing, but we've created our own interpretation of this work, this rendition of ours, out of nothing using only our knowledge of music and our imaginative skill, such as it is, and let's say it sounds quite nice, maybe even awesome.
Maybe we've written our own original work, it's well crafted, useful, and beautiful to listen to, and we've learned it and can perform it for ourselves.
Convinced this is art, we're practicing it at home or at our place of worship, all by ourselves, late at night behind a locked door, and we're the only one who can hear it.
This is not art.
But when that same music of ours is performed for someone else, as soon as it has that collision with another person or group of people to where it creates a change for the better in both you and them ... then we have art [See blog, The Book, Part II].
The finest organ fugue of Sebastian Bach ...
The finest piano score of Frederic Chopin ...
The finest orchestral score of Ludwig van Beethoven ...
The finest marble sculpture of Michelangelo [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXVI] ...
The finest oil painting of Leonardo DaVinci ...
The finest choreography of Gene Kelly ...
The finest acting of Spencer Tracy ...
The finest novel of Victor Hugo ...
The finest poem of Edgar Allan Poe ...
The finest operatic score of Richard Wagner ...
The finest play of William Shakespeare ...
If it was always kept bottled up in a private space to where no one except its creator ever heard it, saw it, read it, experienced it, or felt its impact, it would never have qualified as art.
The moment of its first impact with someone else or a group of people, creating that all important change for the better both in them and its creator ... that's the moment when it became art.
In the case of modern or contemporary art, the more outrageous and disconnected it is from everything in art which came before it, the more of this impact it seems to have [See blog, Thinking Outside The Box].
A pair of glasses left on the floor against a wall in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was recognized and photographed as a work of art in that setting when it was simply placed there as an experiment to see what effect it might have on the touring public.
This brings to mind the infamous musical work "4'33" created by modern composer John Cage, during which the performer simply sits at the keys of the instrument for 4 minutes and 33 seconds while the hands and feet are idle, doing nothing; the random, ambient noises occuring in the room during this interval of silence is, according to the composer, the identifiable "music," which changes each time the work is "performed."
There is obviously no "map" on how to be an artist.
While we can learn in general terms much about art by studying previous examples, art is the act of navigating without a map; one person cannot tell another person precisely how to do it; if there were a "map," then we would have a craft which can be taught this way, upon which art is heavily dependent.
If our plan with our composing or improvising or performing is to work along the edges of the box rather than far outside it, then we have the right idea; this is where the means of production are available, where the audience is, and where our art can have a lasting impact.