art, artists, choral singing, From Mao to Mozart, Isaac Stern, love, music
Can there be Art without Love?
What makes a great artist? Possessing a greater gift than others, an ability to see or hear differently, a drive to make or do in ways unequaled by others, all these…but is love a necessary component? The cliché has always been that there can be no art without suffering – the alcoholic novelist, the demonically driven painter, the consumptive poet, the haunted composer – all consumed by something greater than themselves in the drive to create. We’ve all read the histories of artists behaving badly, mistreating women, abusing drugs or alcohol, hurting friends or family or themselves, and yet at the same time making paintings or music or dances that are sublime. The juxtaposition of bad behavior and high art is often compelling. But is that the price for contributing to the cultural legacy of humanity? Or is it simply that not everyone receives every gift? Someone who is an artist in her ability to conduct human relationships may not be the same someone who can turn marble into life, or random sounds into a symphony.
These thoughts resurfaced recently in discussions surrounding my participation in choral music, and whether love is needed in the process. I use the word “love” in this context to be something more than affection: an aspirational passion to connect with something greater than oneself; a reaching out beyond the conventional, the decorative or the attractive to something more; an opening of the heart to wider possibilities of human and divine interaction. I acknowledge as I write that whether art is creative or interpretive, there is an element of the indefinable in it. Still, to my mind love is always there, even in the person who cannot otherwise express or experience it in ordinary human interactions. And if it is not? It is not difficult to identify mediocrity all around us, ever present in many aspects of popular culture. Cynicism and financial gain can trump the love of creation in short order.
So while singing or playing, is love needed in order to interpret the music, share it with fellow/sister musicians, the conductor and the audience? Are musicians required to care? Does it show if they do not? The answer can be found in the 1980 film From Mao to Mozart. More than thirty years ago the late Isaac Stern went to China and discovered both the enormous talent and the hideous damage that had been inflicted on China’s musicians during the Cultural Revolution. The young people of an age to have endured those times played mechanically, with technique but without personal communion – for during their development, how could they have dared to express love for this music? To do so would have brought about the harshest of sentences for themselves and their families. These young people were able to play the notes; they were unable to connect to the soul of the music.
Is Suffering necessary to make Art? Not really. Sacrifice? More than likely. Love? You bet. It is as important as the air we breathe, infusing life, elevating, inspiriting, and allowing the mystery of creation to shine through.
© Poets Sinews, 2014, reuse by permission only.