Saturday Dec 07, 2002

Muzak or Mozart

What is Art?

The answer in the broadest brushstroke is this: It’s all art.

The art I am talking about is art from the soul. Once the soul is found, the form follows—painting, music, dance, literature, and so on. Isn’t all art from the soul? No. Muzak is not Mozart.

Let me tell you about the piano man.

When I was living in San Francisco, a superb artist, mentor and friend, several of his patrons, and I, were gathered in a large three-story stone mansion in the Cow Hollow district that overlooked the Marina. I looked around. The entire first floor that once supported many walls and rooms had been gutted to make space for an imposing ballroom. In the dimly lit inner sanctum there were some thirty pianos, each covered with a soft white sheet. Our host, a wealthy piano collector, told us various virtuosi and composers had owned these pianos. He asked us if we would like to hear a piece. Yeses and nods. After carefully removing the cover draped over a grand piano, he ran his hand several fingers along the mirror-like luster of the wood. As he sat down, our host mentioned that this fine instrument had belonged to Arthur Rubenstein and that Vladimir Horowitz and Igor Stravinsky
had once owned the pianos to his right.

The piano man began playing from memory.

Suddenly, Debussy’s Clair de Lune swept up all around the piano mausoleum. After about five minutes, the piece was finished and the air stopped vibrating. We applauded. There was no doubt our host had classical concert ability. Yet there was something missing from the performance of the otherwise haunting melody. While the piano man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency,  the music had been strangely sterile. Our pianist had played the work as the notes ticked off unerringly by rote inside his head. It was accuracy without passion, like hearing a detailed description of two people making love in clinical terms.

To know and appreciate the difference between technique and spirit makes for elevated consciousness. Otherwise you are stuck in that eternal vanilla waiting room with Muzak for company. Each original artwork contains the soul of its creator; that is why the connoisseur wants to own original art; the life force that resides within the work is undeniable. From this understanding, you can enrich your ability to discern art from advertising, soulful from commercial, good from bad, and reality from pretension. Discern not in rhetoric as in proclaiming this is better than that, but in awareness that this is this and this is that. Each true artwork enters the world alone and alive.»

Note: Read the whole account in What is Art inside the main site gallery.

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