Artistic Involvement and Writing

Hi everyone! I hope nobody is being completely overwhelmed by the semester so far. I think I’m toeing the line just a bit…

Many of my peers are currently responding to the essays of Orwell and Didion, and are thinking about and drafting their own “Why I Write” pieces. I have been thinking about these quite a bit as well, but I feel the need to share some thoughts on something I was struck by while I was in my Writing 220 Gateway class on Thursday. My instructor, Raymond McDaniel, asked me and my classmates what major we would choose if we were guaranteed a job in that field which paid $100,000 a year. The question itself was certainly quite engaging, but what amazed me was that a large majority of the class answered with performance-based or musically-related majors.

As a music major, I was both extremely excited and incredibly surprised by all of this. It’s phenomenal to know that so many of my classmates have musical and artistic interests. I suppose I shouldn’t be very surprised, seeing as Writing itself is an intrinsically artistic pursuit. What is troubling to me, however, is the fact that most people are scared away by the perceived lack of career stability presented by these majors. I got to thinking about this, and came up with a few ideas:

 

  • Music is seen only as entertainment by a vast majority of the American public. I don’t have any concrete data to back this up, but I see it every day. Music is what often drives parties, formal social gatherings, and study sessions. More people than I’ve ever seen in my life walk around with earbuds (I’m very guilty of this, but I am a music major after all!). Many do not see music as an art, but rather as a medium through which something can be expressed. The point I’m driving at here is that music in today’s Western culture is a celebrity-dominated field, where the “artist” with the best show and the most flash seems to come out on top. Of course, I’m OVERgeneralizing, as there are innumerable subcultures, subgenres, and underground acts all over the place. But, to most people, studying the pure art of music does not seem to be a worthwhile pursuit for society as a whole.
  • Arts in general are framed as being primarily extracurricular. Many people join band, chorus, drama, dance, and take art classes in high school because, aside from the many public schools that require their students to do so, they are looking for an engaging extracurricular activity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, that’s how people like me discover their true loves for the arts and dedicate their lives to them. However, it truly is a shame that we live in a society that seems to increasingly downplay the importance of the arts in our culture. (Again, NO DATA HERE!) Aside from all the studies that have been done that show how being involved in these activities boosts test scores and strengthens the academic prowess of many students, I think that artists shouldn’t have to worry so much about how they will feed themselves. Artists are the heart of culture. How would TV shows exist without actors? A similar question goes for movies, music, architecture, interior design, and so on. The arts are therefore simply vital, and should be considered as viable academic pursuits since they contain elements of academia anyway. They sustain the creativity and health of our culture.
  • One’s writing is directly influenced by one’s creativity and ability to solve problems, both of which are essentials skills for artists. A musician must constantly figure out how to emphasize certain motives in a passage of music (in my case, it’s always trying to figure out where to breathe without disrupting the phrase, yay for playing tuba). A painter must be able to combine colors and shades in order to accurately portray what she is trying to reproduce, or even to reverse the colors entirely and create some new version of what she sees. Actors must be able to creatively manipulate their movements and speech to portray the actions and emotions of people aside from themselves. Nearly every single piece of written material aims to solve some sort of problem, just as these artists aim to do. Novels solve their own conflicts and build messages through those conflicts. Memoirs present personal accounts and often explore difficult issues that are sometimes not even figured out. Academic essays present theses and aim to solve them through the methodical analysis and interpretation of information. It just so happens that many of my classmates have some sort of artistic experience and there are a few who actively cultivate their artistic skills. I’m inclined to believe that their artistic involvement and desire to study those arts makes them better writers.

 

So, the point I’m driving at is that involvement in the arts is so incredibly important to everyone, especially writers. These creative pursuits train our brains to think in inventive ways. They allow us to develop complex skills that inadvertently train our discipline. A writer needs creativity, discipline, and the ability to solve problems. Other majors certainly need these things, but I find it interesting how closely my own experience as a musician has mirrored my new experiences as a writer

Cheers!

Evan

One thought to “Artistic Involvement and Writing”

  1. Hi Evan,
    I found this post to be very intriguing, specifically because I was also surprised at the amount of people in our class who chose music as an alternate career. Your post made me realize that the only way artistic involvement can be justified to some people is through citing scientific studies on artistic activities i.e. studies showing that practicing an instrument as a child correlates with better organizational skills later in life. While this reasoning is sound and seems natural at first glance, I find that it merely sees artistry through a scientific lens instead of a creative one. We should definitely be aware of the empirical benefits that come from involvement in the arts, but I like to think that the students in our class who chose music as an alternate career did so because music has intrinsic value to them. I admire your choice to pursue music as a career, not only due to the indirect scientific benefits playing an instrument has, but because music informs so many other aspects of life as well. Your connection between music and writing resonated with me, and I hope to use some of my background in music to inform my own writing as well.

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