Whatever is lovely...
“The creative process seems indelibly linked to struggle and strife. The world believes artists by nature are meant to suffer.” Rick Rotante
“A great artist... must be shaken by the naked truths that will not be comforted. This divine discontent, this disequilibrium, this state of inner tension is the source of artistic energy.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
There is a saying that goes something like this: “All great art comes from suffering.” This is something that I have thought about a great deal in my work, as suffering, whether directly affecting me or not, has largely driven my artistic creations - whether music composition or writing poetry. Both of my completed jazz orchestra pieces have been responses to suffering - the first being a response to the death of an uncle, while the second was a response to senseless violence. Most of the other music I have written has been in a minor key, either just sounding sad, angry, or otherwise written out of pain, or actually being so. My poetry is almost exclusively that way, and what is not that way is not very good, even in comparison to the rest of my poetry. I have composed music and poetry so often in this way that I almost forgot to make art that was created out of joy, art that was a response to beauty and goodness. After a year and a half spent composing a response to violence, I had subconsciously accepted the idea that great art is created from pain, suffering, and discord.
However, recently, while viewing some paintings and drawings done by an acquaintance, this idea was brought to the forefront of my mind. While I thought the art I was looking at was nice, my first reaction was that there was a simplicity about the art subject material that was a drawback to how I viewed the art. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized it was not the art that was at issue, but what my view of art was that was the problem. I had for so long been dwelling with a piece of music that was emotionally dark – and it was that way for good reason! – that I did not appreciate the joy that was in this art. There was a cheerfulness that I realized has been lacking in my own art, and even in the art I have appreciated recently.
The piece that specifically caught my eye and especially drew out my soul from the cynicism it had been drifting toward was an illustration called Sky Turtle, depicting a sea turtle flying through the sky, with a small castle and village on its back. Upon first seeing it, I thought, “That’s nice, but nothing I would hang on my wall.” After a day or two though, I had been unable to shake the picture from my mind – one that had changed from a simplistic piece of art, to one deep in joy, beauty, and whimsy. It was one of imagination, created entirely in the artist’s mind. It was this that inspired me to compose a tune inspired by Sky Turtle, musically depicting the turtle as described above – using my imagination to depict something, instead of simply responding to it. That initial tune then was turned into my second trombone quartet piece, and will likely become the theme of a piece for jazz orchestra.
During this time, I have been reminded of the above quote about suffering and art, but also that, as a Christian, I believe that God created a universe that was good and beautiful and joyful. So too then, I should create things that are good, beautiful, and joyful. I realized that, contrary to the belief that great art only, or mainly, comes from pain, beauty and joy can also inspire great art that encourages and uplifts, art that moves people on at least an equal scale to what pain and suffering can do, but in a positive way. I want to create art that is rich in joy and deep in creativity; I want to create art that encourages others; I want to create not from a spirit of suffering and cynicism, but of joy and of love.
“I know that I want to produce beautiful music, music that does things to people that they need. Music that will uplift, and make them happy—those are the qualities I’d like to produce.” John Coltrane
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I am a freelance trombonist, composer, and private lesson instructor in the St. Paul, MN area.