Monday, June 7, 2010

An epiphany of sorts

When I was young, my creative focus was music. Specifically, piano. Up until my freshman year in high school, I had a teacher who was very creative. She taught music theory as well as technique, and she also taught how to embellish music with octaves, arpeggios, glissandos, etc. Think Ferrante and Teicher.
Yeah. I even played that particular piece. Without the jacket. Anyway, I remember being amazed at what could be done for a plain melody with embellishments of various kinds. And each time you played it, it could be different, depending on which embellishments you chose and where you placed them. That was fun. For a little while. And then I remember being rather bored with that, and thinking maybe I could just find some more interesting music to play, rather than have to make it interesting myself. And so I moved on to a new teacher, and Bach, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Chopin. And I was happy.
But then I was introduced to Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini. I loved Paganini’s music, so I looked forward to working on it, but I soon realized I had come full circle. Here I was again, taking a melody and disguising it, morphing it, playing it louder, then softer, then faster, then slower… nauseum.
So where am I going with this? So what?
I have been thinking a lot recently about the advice I see everywhere that artists need to “find their voice”. It seems that the common wisdom suggests that artists need a body of work that uniquely expresses their perspective on the world, on life and what it means to live it. As I have interpreted this advice, it means that people should be able to look at a new piece of yours and know, or at least suspect, that you made it. I have a problem with that.
There are a couple of artists whose work I recognize as quickly as that. These are famous artists who are respected in their field and paid well for their time and effort. So maybe there is something to that advice? And yet, I honestly don’t find their work interesting. For one artist in particular, all of her work seems to me to be a variation on a single theme. It is technically spectacular, but with each new piece I think “haven’t I seen this before?” I don’t want people to look at my work and think that. I want to be able to stretch my creativity by using different materials, different substrates, different themes. And yet, I worry that I will never be taken seriously if I don’t “settle down” into a style.
Well, maybe I have just been too rigid in my interpretation of the advice. After pondering the review in the paper I mentioned in my last post, I began to think about the phrase “feminine and organic” and looked at the exhibit with fresh eyes. I do now see a common thread that connects each work to the ones before and after. A thread that is “feminine and organic” – a desire to find the beautiful, the peaceful, the respite from the ugliness of gulf oil spills, war, economic exploitation, prejudice and ignorance. Not a fantasy world type of beauty, but the beauty that is here, now, real. And I think I have found that without being too repetitive and wearing out a tired old melody. Today is a good day after all.


  1. In my last post I quote Thelonious Monk... "play yourself"

    part of being your self is evolving into yourself. Maybe those whose work is so recognizable are stuck and not unfolding into their new selves???

  2. Well I think that's a very good point. In some measure, it could be because they have found success and are afraid to move out of their current creative mode because they crave the security of what the public is buying. But I definitely think to do that is to stunt your growth as an artist. The trick is to continue to stretch and grow without being so unfocused that it seems you just "dabble in everything". I see that as the goal, but have no idea how to achieve it! :-D



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