Illness, other responsibilities, and self-doubt have keep me from the blog recently. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking!
As the dates for the scholarship audition and recital come closer and closer, I think that, hopefully, the piano practice seems about where it should be. Nothing is perfect, but the beauty of the pieces is slowly emerging, and the terror of the difficult places is receding.
Sharon, from my home town in Wichita (and coordinator of our fiftieth high school reunion), recently posted this on Facebook, and I am hereby borrowing it:
Such beliefs comfort me during times when I feel my art does not matter much. Luckily, there are those who have gone before who have faced similar doubts and have left a trail of letters out of that quagmire.
Patricia of Colorado reminds me of some of the “notes” Madeleine L’Engle left, quoted by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his 1996 book Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention. According to Csikszentmihalyi, L’Engle “aims to remind the reader of the world’s ‘grim realities’ but to frame them in a way that makes the possibility of overcoming them feel equally real, using storytelling as a ‘way to keep people from falling away from one another.’”
And Maria Popova in her essay “Kandinsky on the Spiritual Element in Art and the Three Responsibilities of Artists” quotes Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky, who said, “To harmonize the whole is the task of art,” and then goes on to quote others who felt something similar:
“Art is a form of nourishment (of consciousness, the spirit),” 31-year-old Susan Sontag wrote in her diary in 1964. “Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness,” wrote Alain de Botton half a century later in the excellent Art as Therapy. But perhaps the greatest meditation on how art serves the soul came more than a century earlier, in 1910, when legendary Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky published Concerning the Spiritual in Art (free download; public library) — an exploration of the deepest and most authentic motives for making art, the “internal necessity” that impels artists to create as a spiritual impulse and audiences to admire art as a spiritual hunger.
"Kandinsky’s words, penned in the period between the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the consumer society, ring with remarkable poignancy today. He begins by considering art as a spiritual antidote to the values of materialism and introduces the notion of “stimmung,” an almost untranslatable concept best explained as the essential spirit of nature, echoing Tolstoy’s notion of emotional infectiousness as the true measure of art. Kandinsky writes:
[In great art] the spectator does feel a corresponding thrill in himself. Such harmony or even contrast of emotion cannot be superficial or worthless; indeed the Stimmung of a picture can deepen and purify that of the spectator. Such works of art at least preserve the soul from coarseness; they “key it up,” so to speak, to a certain height, as a tuning-key the strings of a musical instrument.
David Brooks challenged me with his article “A Moral Bucket List: What kind of adventures produce goodness, rather than build résumés?” in last Sunday’s New York Time’s Review section. I recommend the entire article as an exercise in soul-searching, but the part I’d especially like to quote is in a section called “The Call within the Call.” Brooks writes, “We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have exeriences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.”
He goes on to note that, “Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But [some] people. . .do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my instrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?”
And, as the opening poster suggests, all of the arts meet deep needs. And it has been from that perspective that I have devoted so much time over the past weeks and years, despite sometimes wondering if the practice, the writing “did any good.”
It is my hope that the book and the music that I will bring on June 6 will travel some way toward meeting those needs that many artists before me have articulated.
It is also my hope that new non-profits like Jazale’s Art Studio here in Milwaukee will help to introduce the joy of making art to a whole new generation of young artists.