Last year, I discovered the modernist author James Joyce, whose Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man captured my imagination in a way that few other books have. The novel made me think about the artistic and musical aspects of my life in new ways, because Joyce has an engaging and unique way of describing art, which can be divided into two categories: improper and proper.
Improper art is composed of the pornographic and the didactic. Pornographic art includes what the Supreme Court defines as pornography, as well as anything that moves the view to desire. A car advertisement, to Joyce, is a kind of pornographic art. Didactic art, on the other hand, seeks to teach the viewer something, or to make the viewer aware of some injustice. Both didactic and pornographic art have their uses, but they are not proper art, at least not as Joyce imagines it.
Proper art is art for art's sake. It holds the viewer in a state of aesthetic arrest. The terror of the eruption of a volcano or the somber "E Lucevan le Stelle" aria that Cavaradossi sings as he awaits his execution in Tosca, are examples of Joyce's "proper art." Proper art transcends physical reality. For me, proper art can be recognized most easily in music. I spend much of my time playing the clarinet. I could list the orchestras I've played with, the conductors and teachers I have had the privilege to study with, but that doesn't quite capture what music means to me.
It's more that I have no idea of myself without music. If you were to reach into the depths of my person and pluck out the musical parts of me, I'm not sure what would be left. It definitely wouldn't be a whole person.
Music is where I find Joyce's idea of "proper art." I'm not a religious person, but the spiritual moments that I have known have come from when I have been part of an orchestra. The experience is a kind of shelter against the Wasteland, the world of cynicism and irreverence that makes up so much of our everyday existence.
My ultimate goal in music and in life is to find a place of aesthetic arrest. A place where I can share myself with the world and try to show them the joy I find in existence.