by Rozanna Weinberger
These days it seems contemporary audiences are much more influenced by shows like The Voice than the concert hall. This may also be in part because children have less exposure to fine art and so we seek it less and less. While I would never suggest that just because someone auditions for a talent competition they lack artistic integrity, many of us confuse winning the contest as the end game rather than a means to an artistic end. And much to my chagrin, we are learning through these influences to be less impressed by substance in favor of sensationalism. In other words, fame and fortune can tend to seem like the end game rather than a positive means to an end. What should that end game be?
Truth is, art can accomplish at least 2 things. It can appeal to audiences and it can have substance. By substance I mean it can have a positive contribution. And an artist doesn’t have to lose ones authentic voice in the process. Perhaps one of the biggest differences between a great composer like Beethoven and composers of lesser gravitas is that his music has the power to uplift society and it does so without playing to the audience.
What does this mean to us? The idea of value creating education, a concept pioneered by the influential Japanese educator, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, suggested that a contributive life – based on the cultivation of beauty, good and gain – made possible for the student to do good in the world while fulfilling his or her ambitions in the world or mission in life.
So what does all this have to do with a career in the arts and what is the misunderstanding many of us have? Its because there may be times that artists will need to bend the rules to appeal to ‘the masses’. But it could have more to do with cultivating a broader spectrum of talents in addition to mastering the instrument. As an entrepreneur who has gone through many evolutions, I believe its a combination of utilizing ones unique skills, unearthing the skills we didn’t think we needed to ever use, while developing those that are lesser developed. What impact does this have? It means the artist will ultimately be able to solve his or her career issues and move that wall, by starting with exactly where they are in life and daring to take one more step at a time authentically.
Laurie Anderson has been one of the most influential artists in my life. While a part of me felt a strange discomfort in seeing a ‘violinist’ also entertaining the audience on multi dimensional levels, such as in her ground breaking film, Home of the Brave, it was a compelling artistic experience, while appealing to a broader audience than many of the most successful classical violin players.
And while there is no question most string players coming up today are already breaking boundaries previously not even considered, there is still the matter of attracting audiences without doing so at any cost.
This I believe is where value creation comes into play. How do we build an audience without doing so at any cost? Perhaps the exact opposite of this stance is to be found by some contemporary classical composers. What turns art into something more than an exploration of the form? It is that poetic something that captures our hearts. The hallmark of much 20th century music was expanding the limits of musical form. Yet how many times did the composers effectively capture our hearts vs. engaging our intellect? Or if our emotions were actively engaged, were we also elevated?
So the question for many contemporary string players these days is, how to build a career in a climate where fewer jobs are ready made by winning an audition for an orchestra while more and more must be cultivated by the player whether playing jazz, new age, pop, rock, etc. Being successful requires a combination of authenticity but also a willingness to serve the audience in the noblest sense of the word.
This is a kind of value, different from the usual descriptives of a successful career such as fame, fortune, power. It is a recognition that artists paint the world with our influence and the thoughtful artist will understand the significance.