I love teaching The History Of Western Music class. This course is a one year survey for students who major in other areas such as jazz or classical Arab music. I somehow feel that I have more freedom, and instead of trying to cover a great deal of material, I try to focus on interesting issues that might have some significance in my student’s lives as musicians and artists. Lately we explored renaissance madrigals and tried to learn through them about the period as well as about the text – music relationship.
In class we discussed the connection between music and poetry through various examples of Madrigals. It has been said that “the Renaissance created the Artist”. Artist rather than Artisan. Craft is very easy to see but art, although many times noticeable, is hard to define. Innovation is the first thing that comes to one’s mind concerning art. Yet, when one thinks of Mozart in relation to Haydn, it is hard to know who was more innovative.
The first thing that helps me make the distinction is very subjective: I can be easily impressed by craft, but it is art that touches me.
Recently I came across an old book that I read years ago and I return to once in a while:
Jen Sheng by Mikhail Prishvin. (translated to Hebrew by Avraham Shlonsky, a great poet in his own right). In this poetic story, the author goes through a transformation with the help of a mentor. Like many other stories that deal with transformation and mentorship, we learn that the quest, the search for the magic plant Jen Sheng, the root of life, that takes place in the forest and appears to be an escape from western civilization, is actually a quest directed inward. The root of life is actually within us, but as the old man tells the author, you can only go look for it if your “heart is pure”.
The author says that before, (as a chemistry student), the main thing for him was to prove things and now he has no one to prove to. “How many people come and go without understanding their own Jen Sheng, without exposing deep in them the source of power, courage and bliss.”
So here is my personal way of looking at the question about art and craft: in a work of art, there must be a quest. Sometimes I can only sense the quest of the artist, yet sometimes it is so strong that it makes me go on a quest of my own.
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