Art as a Tool for Self-Exploration
I can only speak from my own experience. There was a day, years ago, when I was alone in my apartment and I was sitting there in a state of existential dread – static, doing nothing. For one, I didn’t know what I should be doing. I had recently finished college, got my bachelor degree, moved to Colorado, got married… now what? Why was music in my life? What was I supposed to do with it? There had to be some PRACTICAL use for music in order for me to keep it in my life. I had an interview with a music publishing company, but when I saw the cubicles I’d be sitting in for 60 plus hours a week that same existential dread that I was feeling now crept up on me. And yet, if I look back on that experience, the answer was there – right from my own mouth. The Vice President of the company spoke with me privately after the interview and asked about my time in college, books I liked to read, etc. I told him now that I was out of school I looked forward to reading all the books that I had been interested in while enrolled, but did not have time to read due to the workload I was balancing. I wanted to explore!
So that day of dread in Colorado Springs turned into something interesting. I sat at the piano and turned on the recorder. I sat for a few minutes, – no rush – closed my eyes and just played. It didn’t matter what it sounded like. I made no judgments or assumptions. There was no “right” or “wrong.” No criticism whatsoever. After I felt like I had played enough, I stopped. I turned the recorder off and I put it away.
The next day I did the same thing – sat, stilled my thoughts, turned the recorder on and played. I did this for about a week, saving each recording. Then I took a break from recording and started practicing some other music. One week after those recording sessions I went back to listen to what I had played. It was astounding how clearly I could articulate in music the issues with which I was struggling! Don’t get me wrong, these were not finished products, these recordings, – very rough around the edges. But the voice was there – the AUTHENTICITY was there! What I struggled to understand inside my head was made so much clearer by putting it out in the world were I could look at it objectively. That was the start of a beautiful new way of making music for me. Instead of basing my music on controlling every minute detail of the music (my piece “Letter No. 1”), I would now base it on surrendering to exploration of self. Of course all the analytical stuff (judgment, criticism, control) comes back in afterwards when I work on developing the piece, but the voice – the thread that runs through each of the recordings in a week long session – is never compromised. Authenticity is the only rule.
So why am I sharing this with everyone? Because this exercise can be done (and should be done) by everyone! You may need a more experienced artist to assist you in navigating the art, or you may be confident enough navigating your own way. All situations are valid. There is no wrong way. I see in my children, how they freely sing about EVERYTHING, how my brothers sing daily (even about mundane chores). My eldest son makes the most beautiful abstract paintings at preschool – and the say so MUCH about who he is…
And that is the point: Art is a wonderful tool for self exploration.
In my experience, it can be very difficult to find fulfillment in life if you aren’t constantly exploring who you are.
One thought on “I am a Composer (and so are You)”
Very interesting, Paul!