Three year olds and seven year olds ask the best questions.
“Why don’t you ever turn these pegs?”
“Why don’t you ever use that bow?”
“Why do we say down when we mean up?”
And the one I got yesterday…
“Why do your feet look darker?”
Part of communicating clearly is being prepared for the tough questions. Knowing not only what they will be, but also determining how to respond.
A question I have spent time wrestling with is, “What is art?”
I could opt for a dictionary definition…
- the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects
- works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings
Or even cool quotes…
- “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” Pablo Picasso
- “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Albert Einstein
- “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Edgar Degas
But after much thought, the way I describe and experience art narrows down to one quality: captivation. Artistry is captivating. Work that is not captivating is not art.
And if we acknowledge this, that art by definition is captivating, then several things are true.
Anything that can be captivating is art.
Anything that captures and diverts our attention is art. From eloquent speeches to expertly edited video. From the improvisations of a jazz guitarists to the way light strikes a particular rock formation art can be found. An episode of Southpark, or a painting that uses only two colors, or any work created in a unique way or with a rare goal, might be dismissed from the art world. But I would argue that if it captivates, then it belongs.
The audience determines what is and isn’t art.
And who decides if it belongs? If we define art is captivating, then that captivation is named first by the audience. One of my frustrations with twentieth century ‘art’ music is the expectation that if only the intellectual elite can understand then it must be exceptionally fine art. But if this complex, twentieth century music is only captivating a handful of connoisseurs, then it is only art to that sliver of the audience. And as tastes evolve, an individual’s capacity for captivation will change. Our role as performers is to constantly seek to validate our work by captivating at least one member of our audience, and therefore producing art.
Any one can create art, something captivating, even without trying.
With the publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Carol Dweck’s Mindset, and Daniel Coyle’s Talent Code, it is becoming universally acknowledged that an ability to do comes from doing and not from an arbitrary genetic pre-disposition. Because anything can be captivating, anyone is capable of doing something captivating. This means artistry can be found in the performance of Anne Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven Violin Sonata, or in a four year olds performance of Twinkle. Equal opportunity to artistry means that all students are capable, at all times, to do outstanding work.
Make sure to communicate this capability to your students. They are artists, each and every one of them, and they are capable of captivating many with their skills mastered on the violin and beyond.
Furthermore, take time to carefully consider your students’ tough questions. Their prompts might lead to astounding conclusions. And your conclusions might lead to further, ever impressive wonderings.