Apr. 27, 2016

When We Have Art, Part I

"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

What good is a song if nobody but the song-writer ever hears it ? ...
Could it still be called a work of art ? ... the answer, technically, is NO.
"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 and qualifying point in that definition ...
Let's say, we've worked on that song arrangement of ours or that favorite written piece of ours long and hard, we can play it now from memory, note for note at concert tempo, and we know it thoroughly.
We've created something out of nothing using only our knowledge of music and our imaginative skill, such as it is, and let's say it sounds really good, maybe even awesome.
Maybe we've written our own original work, it's well crafted, useful, interesting 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.
We would be mistaken to think that this is all it takes to qualify something as a work of art.
Now then, when that same music of ours is performed the same way for somebody else, as soon as it has that collision with another person or group of people to where it makes an impact upon them ... it becomes art THEN, and not before [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 private to where no one except its creator ever heard it, saw it, read it, experienced it, or felt its impact, no matter how intricately or skillfully it's put together, it fails as art.
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" therefore, on how to be an artist.
While we can learn much in general terms about a specific art form by studying the examples left to us by the masters, art remains an act of navigating without a map.
One person cannot tell another person precisely how to do it; if there were such a thing as a "map," then we would have a craft which can be taught this same way, time after time, upon which the art involved in applying it would be heavily dependent.
Thus we find that a craft and the art connected with using it are different and separate.
It comes as no surprise then, for those who try to create a lasting work of art by working far outside the box of the craft involved in producing it, that their expectations fail to be met.
If instead our plan with our composing, improvising, performing repertoire, or arranging at the organ to work along the edges of the box, then our work can be expected to have some enduring qualities.
Along the edges of the box is where the means of production are available and where the audience is, thus where our creations can have a lasting impact.
(con't in Part II)