Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Aiming High in Art

The artist will move future generations when the bones of kings have long since mouldered away. ~Franz Alexander von Kleist

Franz Alexander von Kleist was a contemporary of Mozart, whose work we all have encountered at one time or another in one form or another. His brief span of years slightly overlapped that of another great composer, Ludwig von Beethoven, but the brevity of his 35 years eliminated any possibility of the two being on a stage together. (You can imagine that concert. The first supergroup!)

I'd read, and believed, that Beethoven was the first composer who sought to create work that lived for the ages. I was under the impression that musicians like Mozart, Bach and others were creating music for the moment, for the occasion, for a king or the coming Sunday's worship service. But the von Kleist quote above indicates that even during Mozart's time, the modern notion of legacy and casting a long shadow forward was luminous and influential.

There's a lot of pressure when you choose to pick up and carry this standard. When I was young it was something I continually wrestled with.

In contrast to this, I think of the live painting (performaing art) I did at Norm's for Halloween a couple weeks ago, and how different my aim was. My goal was to bring enjoyment to those who were there as the act of creation was projected into the corner like a lightshow. Can it be that Mozart's mind was operating in this manner as well, directed not toward the unknown ears of tomorrow, but to the very specific audiences of the moment? Like a live bar band that tests the effect of varying tempos on gathered crowds, Mozart gauged the effects of his music on live audiences. His works were so numerous he had ample opportunity to test the effectiveness of various themes, motifs and the like. By reaching the real heart of one real person he knew his music would penetrate the hearts of the masses as well.

This is possibly where the musical experimenters like Schoenberg and John Cage went astray, though Cage had the wits to know that audiences need at least a minimal reference point in order to make a connection, as observed in his involvement with the Maurice Cunningham Dance Company. Aiming high is good, but to aim so high as to get lost in the clouds can be a problem. This is why I have always applied the billiard room rule to my life and work: Players must keep at least one foot on the ground.

"Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent
When I paint my masterpiece." ~Bob Dylan

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