Artistic Philosophy

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Artistic Philosophy

“An artistic vocation begins with a gift, plus a sense that your gift is an obligation. To put it bluntly, you owe it your life.” As I ponder these eloquent and powerful words of Ursula K. Leguin, a conflict begins to emerge within the depths of my being. We live in a world torn with war and violence, stricken with poverty and hunger, and strained with fear and cupidity. A world that seems likely to end amongst the contrite-filled echoes of a nuclear showdown or disappear under the melting water of the polar ice caps. Underneath my love of music, a soft but persistent voice whispers: “How do you justify the pursuit of an intangible art within a world of such tangible strife?” “Of what importance is art to the survival and prosperity of the species?”

The phrase “music changes lives” has to me become a bourgeoisie-inspired cliché that is generally approved, even taken for granted, yet paradoxically, is often followed by the word “but.” Think of this ubiquitous message spoken incessantly by government, nationally and locally:

We believe in the value and importance of creative art, BUT we’ve only provided a small
budget for education, and so we will, unfortunately, have to cut funding of art and music
classes in favor of the sciences, which are PRACTICALLY useful.

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Science and art each look at a rose. Science sees groups of atoms bound together by common electrons, the photosynthetic process, and the absorptive and reflective properties of its composite elements. Art looks at the same rose and sees the magic and beauty of a droplet of water on the leaf, sparkling like a diamond in the morning sunlight, the delicious beauty of the plush-red petals, and its delicate fragrance. Science looks inside of people and sees atoms and bacteria and systemic functions. Art looks inside each person and sees a unique, precious human life to be cherished, celebrated, and expressed.

Is art, then, intellectually inferior to science? Albert Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.” Art is not a quest for knowledge, but a manifestation of human creativity. While science seeks to explain that which is already a part of the Universe, art adds to and expands the Universe. In this way, knowledge is actually limited, but imagination and the creative impulse are infinite. The stream of art will always flow from the eternal spring of the human spirit. As Aaron Copland said, “So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.”

Science analyzes the world, and art appreciates and expresses it. Science and art are a form of yin and yang; they both represent that which is greater than us in their own ways. My soul-searching is not an attempt to diminish the importance of scientific inquiry, but rather to justify a devotion to artistic expression.

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It is artistic expression that answers the question, “Why does the survival and prosperity of humanity matter in the first place?” It is because we are worth saving, and I know that because of our magnificent artistic capability. Musical art is the manifestation of the deep inner purity and nobility of the human soul. It proves a beauty in us too precious to lose. At its core, art is a call to respect not only life but also our planet eARTh, which is the original work of art created long before any of us.

As modern politics attempts to drag us down into messy, savage, juvenile quarreling, musical art lifts us up to the highest aspirations of human potential. Art is the process of harmonious creation. It is our creative faculties that distinguish us as a species, and represent our highest calling – through creativity, we can glimpse the divine.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” Music weeds the garden of the heart and waters this seed of goodness that is innate within each of us. A peaceful world is nothing more than a garden of blossoming flowers grown from the seeds of the human soul.

As children of the stars, each of us is literally unique in the entire cosmos. We each have our own essence to share. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” My justification for my own pursuit of musical art is that I am the only one in the Universe who can share my own voice.

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And yet as a budding musician, that voice still whispers: “Can music change the world?” “Byron, why don’t you go into politics where you can enact legislation that will tangibly improve the lives of the impoverished?” But as I reflect, I slowly come to realize that music is actually one of the deepest agents of change. The tangible monstrosities of violence, inequality, and racism are symptoms of deeper intangible roots of fear, greed, and intolerance. Music falls underneath the layer of the physical and permeates these emotional and spiritual layers of existence. By bypassing the brain and speaking directly to the heart, music treats these deeper roots as opposed to their surface manifestations that are treated by science and politics. Music heals those who are impoverished and broken in spirit, and this role is needed desperately in our world today.

This is my answer to that persistent whispering voice in my head. My justification of musical art is not a utilitarian one but rather a spiritual one. What this world needs is not technology, but rather compassion. Not machinery, but kindness. Music provides a beacon of peace, hope, joy, and healing of the soul amidst this world of chaos. It is the task of each musician to cultivate these qualities within himself. If every human looked at both himself and his neighbor through the eyes of an artist, a dove would descend from the heavens carrying an olive branch. For the artist has an eye for grace and beauty, and is always eager to look for and draw out the goodness innate to all of us. Yes, music can change the world, because it can change each person, and all people together make up the world in which we live.

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What does this mean in terms of my personal relationship with myself, with music, and with the world? First, as a growing violinist, I am committed to musical excellence and the perfection of my craft. Yet as a true artist, I have an even more fundamental calling to become a kind and empathetic human being. And as an ambassador and advocate of musical art, I am also an ambassador and activist for peace wherever I go.

Second, performing in Carnegie Hall in white coat tails in front of an audience rich enough to afford a season subscription serves an extraordinarily small sector of humanity. As a servant and ambassador of musical art, I pledge to greatly broaden the reaches of classical music, bringing it out of the concert hall and into the real world. I pledge to greatly expand access to classical music and share my music with those who are broken in spirit whomever or wherever they might be. To connect with my fellow beings on a human level.

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I have yet to find all the answers, and maybe the answers don’t all exist. I do know that my artistic convictions will be forever evolving, fueled by my experience and interaction with others. If nothing else, my soul-searching thus far has brought me to a place of gratitude every day for the opportunity and privilege to add my voice to the universe. The Dali Lama XIV beautifully encapsulates my interpretation of the artistic creed:

Every Day, think as you wake up
Today I am fortunate
To have woken up,
I am alive.
I have a precious human life,
I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all of my energies
To develop myself,
To expand my heart to others,
To achieve enlightenment
For the benefit of all beings.