Sunday, February 25, 2007

Night Thoughts on Techne

I am a big fan of the Weekend Financial Times. Last week, I had a rare opportunity to read nearly the entire paper at one siting, while in the waiting room of a hospital.

One of the most enjoyable pieces last week was the headline article in the FT Weekend section by the first violinist of the Takács String Quartet, Edward Dusinberre. Yes, you read that right - a full two pages of a major newspaper devoted to a violinist writing about the arrival and integration of their newest member, Geraldine 'Geri' Walther. There's hope for humanity yet, right?

Well, perusing the Letters section of this weekend's FT, I discovered a letter from a certain Felix A.H. Allender of Switzerland, who took rather large exception to Dusinberre's piece. He writes,

With a few exceptions (Richard Wagner comes to mind) musicians (and painters), no matter how excellent, should not write or certainly not be published, whatever rubbish they write. Let them stick to the art in which they excel.

Well then. Although it seems the main source of his umbrage was the fact that the article fails to mention the founder of the quartet, Gabor Takács-Nagy, who also happens to live in Switzerland, his categorical salvo urging musicians to stay in the kitchen, where they belong, struck me to the quick, for you see...

I am a musician.

So what now? Is Felix an old coot, or is he onto something? Does God hand out artistic gifts by the category? Why on earth would he single out Wagner as both a great musician and a great writer?

I cannot draw, and so it's doubtful that my stick figure Der Ring Des Nibelungen will ever find its way to a publisher, but I am a writer by trade and a musician by training, so despite the facility in which his comment could be summarily dismissed, it stuck.

Why? Well, to be more charitable to Mr.Allender, I wonder if his point is this: An artist is there to create art. When he (or she, but let's just assume I talking about myself in the 3rd person) is in public, and isn't creating art, he should remain perfectly silent.

Furthermore, by publishing a piece of journalism, he's doing a disservice to his art, and so, for everyone's benefit, he should refrain from doing anything public not related to his art, like writing articles, recommending stock purchases to friends and participating in politics.

Seen this way, his view begins to resemble some far more commonplace views about the role of the artist in society, that the artist simply should avoid these things, that it is not their place. I am not saying this is a bad view, merely that it's one that has a certain resonance.

I wonder what Mr. Allender would think of say, an engineer or banker penning a column for the FT? Would he have been so indignant, and if not, why? What makes our crafts so special as to make it dangerous for us to do things outside of them?

To be honest, I think he's got a point here, but I struggle to articulate what it is. Can you help?


The Absurdity Miner said...

You just can't be a Renaissance Man/Woman these days, you have to stick to your field and not wander into someone else's kingdom. You're a musician, so, shaddap and stick to makin' music. Leave the writin' to the experts - it's not your jurisdiction.

The modern equivalent of the Renaissance Man/Woman seems to be the celebrity - the ultimate in Anti-Renaissance. Look at Paris Hilton - she does TV, perfume, pop music... she's so universally talentless that she can get away with it. But fie if a gifted violinist try to write something!

It seems the key to success in diverse fields is to do each one half-assed...

Gawain said...

well, artists do talk trivial nonsense with surprising frequency (my feeling is that they aren't any better on topics unrelated to art than the rest of us). but this piece was on the topic of their work, wasn it not, something they should know something about?

Otto van Karajanstein said...

Indeed, that was what surprised me. The piece was "a day in the life", and someone comes along and appears visibly and publicly distressed about this fact.

A musician spoke. How dare he.