Beethoven’s 5th was crudely charted out on the classroom whiteboard. “Mary Had A Little Lamb” was beside it, and “Pachelbel’s Canon in D” was on the side wall. With samurai fluidity, the Music Theory I professor unsheathed a red pen and slashed at the well-known works, revealing profound commonalities between dissimilar songs.
It was impressive.
Her understanding of musical patterns was faultless. She peeled back the curtain on the songs’ inner workings as young students frantically took notes. It was so effective that many were chuckling at the compositions’ simplicity.
I wasn’t laughing–not even close.
It reminded me of when I assisted with an autopsy. I worked extremely hard in Human Anatomy & Physiology class to assist a top-notch coroner because I loved watching surgeries.
Autopsy, however, is not like surgery.
It was precise and professional, but there was no regard for life preservation–there was none to preserve. It was purely exploratory and done without concern for making things whole again.
The red gashes the professor inflicted upon those enduring songs offended me because we were treating the music as if it was dead. We students, who could barely finish laundry without turning everything pink, had no authority to reduce living, breathing compositions down to pieces and parts.
Music will outlive the pathologists, experts and novices alike, so it needs no defense from the likes of me. What truly concerns me are the possible damages done to those who critique art without respect.
- The first danger lies in getting so caught up in how everything works that students of art may no longer experience the wonder that drew them to explore it in the first place.
Art, whether it is in song, painting, poetry, or a human body, is God-breathed and bears His characteristics. It is possible to become so studied in the cellular structure of the Pseudotsuga menziesii that we forget the scent and beauty of a Douglas Fir forest. Wonder is precious. Protect it by stepping back, viewing art in context, and acknowledging its source.
- The second danger lies in stifling our own creativity.
If we reduce a great symphony to logical bits, what hope do we have that we could ever create something worthwhile ourselves? We risk ensnaring our own creativity with expectations so unrealistic that we are not likely to try escaping. Approach art, especially your own, as a work in progress.
- The third danger lies in stifling the creativity of those around us.
We’ve all been around people who are destructively motivated in their criticism. It’s no mystery that we don’t want to share anything risky or precious with them. Criticism is extremely valuable, but wait–or ask–for an invitation to give it. When you offer it, recognize your preferences for what they are, and let your motive be of restoration.
By all means, explore art. Take up scalpels or red markers and learn how things work under the surface. But, for your own well-being and those around you, do so with humility and respect. Remember, that piece of art is alive.