Saturday, 22 May 2010

Whither Art?

It’s not that I actively enjoy suburban railway journeys – certainly not when encumbered by a heavy and unwieldy bass guitar – but I do appreciate the few minutes of guilt-free idleness. Absolutely no reason to do anything other than gaze out of the railway carriage window, following or abandoning whatever thought-paths are opened up by the ever-changing view. Today’s journey was a crossing from one side of London to the other for a bass guitar lesson with Steve Lawson.

Much of suburban London – especially those parts seen alongside a railway line – are frankly rather ugly. I was tired on this particular journey, unable for the moment to balance the ugliness with a rational acceptance of its context, and so the ugliness rather got to me. Instead of being immersed in this noise and dirt and decay, this unkempt rubbish-tip of a city whose back yard seems to mount a violent assault on the soul, how much more pleasant to be away from all this to live somewhere surrounded by green, by tranquillity, by space. A nice safe little island of a make-believe reality we create for ourselves, shutting out the nasty bits, the bits we don’t want to see, the bits that upset or disturb us. Islands of leafy suburbia amidst urban blight; islands of national (illusory?) well-being amidst a world heading for the brink – and perhaps art itself is another form of island, created as an escape mechanism from the harsh brutality of reality.

Does it actually matter that we act as if these islands are real? Or do we need the security they provide so that we can deal with the bigger reality that faces us when we go outside?

If we go outside, that is.

I sometimes worry about trying to justify art, since it sometimes seems to belong only to that artificial reality. Or more to the point, I worry about my art. My music. With working hours written off as worthless, shouldn’t I be doing something of some value with the hours that remain? I over-simplify the question, of course. I can present all manner of excellent reasons why art is valuable, essential even to the advancement of civilisation. How art mirrors the depths as well as the heights of human experience. I don’t have a problem with that, either intellectually or, if you like to put it that way, spiritually. And yet I’m still left with a nagging doubt when it comes to my art. It still feels as though art – my art - is a luxury, to be indulged in only when the real work has been done.

And this is why I miss those railway journeys: the idle thoughts and scribblings in my notebook, stimulated by nothing more than the view from the window, led me to this conclusion: the best way to deal with that question – if I accept that the ‘best’ art is not a luxury at all but an essential catalyst to the expansion of the soul – is to make sure that my art can be counted amongst that which can be such a catalyst. A mighty tall order, one that sounds almost arrogant in its presumption, but nonetheless not one to be shied away from.
In other words, to be the best musician I can be.

It sounds a simple enough concept, and one wonders why it should take such a tortuous mental process to reach this point. However, the ramifications are only just beginning to dawn on me. Some of them are rather scary.

I can be a creature of extremes; holding a tremendous, debilitating lack of self-confidence yet at the same time a deep and sure belief in a potential only just beginning to be tapped. I guess that’s not all bad; at least the lack of confidence prevents what self-belief there is from turning into arrogance.

Ye gods; is the old blogger, not seen here for many a year, at last resurrected?

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