Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Art and Income

Art and Income quickly proved to be a weak, narrow and incomplete premise for the subject I wanted this essay to address, but maybe it’s a good start. Perhaps economic hard times can serve as nourishment for the creative force, but not always. That grist for the creative mill necessary for the traction of progress takes many forms: competition, economics, family, love, and health or just about any other aspect of life that we allow to become obsessive. What would Shakespeare have been without the tensions of love, or Hemingway and Mahler without their obsession with death?

There is a huge difference in the artistic product between what comes easily and what takes the action of work. We can see that in the history of our civilizations on this planet. Those civilizations where life was easy simply didn’t evolve; why should they, when the most demanding thing in life is reaching up to pick a banana? Where as those civilizations that depended on intelligence and cunning to hunt, build a fire, make tools and clothing simply to stay alive, and to form architecture, cities, art and music, developed and flourished. Yet we can’t forget those civilizations that simply faded away because the harsh conditions, weather, nutrition needs, and other hostile environments, were just too overwhelming for survival.

This certainly can’t mean that what comes easily in the creative process is less good than that which requires intense labor; certainly the music of Mozart came easily to him with no negative affect on greatness, but one has to wonder at the profound difference in Mozart’s Requiem, written from his death bed, compared to most of his other works.

Today the question has to be asked if the integrity of the creative force is diminished in greatness since much of our creativity is inspired by its potential of economic reward, i.e. will this project bring income --- will it make money? Is the film soundtrack music of John Williams any less good than if he had written it simply because of a powerful visceral need to compose? Does music created specifically for maximum sales have soul?

More poignantly to the personal perspective of an instrumental musician, is artistic integrity compromised by many symphony orchestras calculating programs for an entire season by ticket sales? Is it possible economic necessity is compromising that artistic integrity?

Now comes the really difficult question: Are we instrumental musicians really creative artists? Painful to contemplate! Is the music we play in our various gigs true art, are we instrumentalists worthy to compare ourselves in any way with the likes of Shakespeare, Mahler, Hemingway, Mozart or even John Williams? Is playing a single line instrument in a symphony orchestra, a single sonic fiber, perhaps of great beauty, but only one colorful thread in a rich tapestry of sound, where real individualism and creativity is frequently discouraged, an art form? Or are we really just a kind of sonic soldier repeating our sonic tasks. And again I find myself forming uncomfortable questions that I avoid or am unable to answer.

I remember occasionally hearing great moments of magic from certain symphony musicians but it seems to me that today, that little bit of individualism, where we occasionally get to shine, has become a non personal non spontaneous approach to music making, i.e. the Sonic Soldier Syndrome.

If so, I personally will fight my hardest to not to fall in that category and hopefully the fight itself might enhance my creative forces beyond that of the rank and file. Musicians need a soul.

Kyoto, Japan, April 2005

Revised June 19, 2012, Tokyo