Books for Everyone!

The Discipline of Art

Winter 2014

Singing the songs for The Music Room was accomplished during some long days of spring allergy season. This musical phase was part of turning the page (closing the book?) on these novels and moving onto the next thing(s) in my life. With singing, there is always another "take" but I often find that the first one (maybe second) is the most expressive. And so it was with these small performances.

I must be very careful not to sing when I have a cold, mucous from allergies, any throat soreness. You can damage the vocal cords singing under such conditions. You can hurt them yelling that way too!

I am a natural singer. As a young child, I learned to sing in church but I was offered voice lessons in school when I was 14. I then underwent further professional training for the next 6 years. The problem for me was that I wanted to develop "my" voice as opposed to what the instructor wanted the voice to be. There was a constant struggle between what the teacher believed I should do and what I felt was right for me and my voice.

Obviously I have a strong personality. When I was told during operatic training that I must submerge my personality so that the personality of the composer would reign supreme through the “pure” expression of his composition –

My immediate, if not vocal, response was: “This is not going to happen.”

There was during those years a constant, finely tuned (ha!) and rather clearly pitched strain between what the instructor believed I should do in the service of the Art -- and what I felt was right for my voice and for the development of my Art.

There was the same tension regarding training my writing, so I basically honed the talent of forging my own path.

I once had a friend in the office world whose mother was British. This older woman took up painting as a hobby. I was in my painting mode in those years and brought a few small canvases into the office for inquiring eyes to see.

My friend asked, "Where did you take painting classes?”

I stated, "I never took any classes in painting."

She concluded, "I wish my mother would stop taking classes in painting."

This woman truly did not get a chance to express her own style or to even look for it! The teacher was an ego-maniac who wanted it done his way. The natural desire of the student to “perform” her talent was ignored or, if it was even noted, was disregarded. I consider that attitude, or treatment, offensive if not somewhere in the realm of malignant.

The world of fine arts is filled with those mad geniuses, although I often came to question the genius more than the madness!

To shape and mold a young talent, regardless of the arena and mode of expression, requires not only a nurturing touch but also the selfless insight and foresight of a true artistic genius who sees not a reflection of what He or She was (or could have been). The true artistic genius is one who sees with focused light and abundant hope the technical skills and mastery -- The Vision -- of what the raw talent could become. And the raw talent must not only consent to that Vision; the raw talent must design its own vision from the template of The Vision.

No one becomes an artist under the thumb of someone else. The art (or Muse) will instinctively rebel within that person and create all kinds of mayhem, emotional, physical, and mental. The Muse wants its own unique Vision and it will fight for it at the expense of the personal self.

I almost routinely had to wage an artistic war for The Vision from many of my teachers. They were gifted people who, sadly, had not grown as individuals and thus did not grow as artists. Each was stuck somewhere in time, along a path that had somehow become blocked. Perhaps that insight which I took from them (it certainly was not willingly imparted by them to me) was the greatest lesson that I learned from any teacher of professional genius who was a highly limited, even flawed, human being.

It is my belief that the human being must put humanity, and not the art, first. I am sometimes alone in that belief, but being alone in any thought is part of the work of the artist.

Too often I encountered teachers with excellent ideas for technique, composition, and true artistry in various forms, but then I was expected to master way too much too soon, all in the service of making the instructor look good. Other students were willing to play that game but I thought it was a bartering -- even a lowering -- of my talent. God did not give me these gifts so that someone else could bask in their glow!

This sort of dictatorial teaching occurs not only in artistic professions but in scientific ones as well. Any subject that has a theory or a method associated with it will attract its share of rigid, doctrinaire commanders. When it is in the name of art, it’s a travesty. When it’s in the name of science, it’s a near-tragedy.

Life levels off that kind of ego but I've rarely waited around to see the leveling! The ingénue, however, certainly learns more than his or her share of the subject at hand. Those lessons are for life more than for art.

When given the choice between my-way-or-the-highway, I’ve always chosen the highway, even the freeway. The scenery and the smells are much better!