Artistry Liberates


The legendary Caroline Coon came into my class a few weeks back to discuss artistry and the influence media has upon music. She read off the essay she wrote to our class which was one of the most insightful comments on media and artistry I have ever heard. I really hope she publishes this essay, it locked my attention throughout.

She mentioned artistry as a craft developed through great skill. The hours and labor put into a specific art is just as important, if not more, than talent itself. The examples of great rock stars and musicians who, at first, came into the spotlight either through talent or media conglomeration production, soon had to realize that they could not go any further without artistry.

This had me reminiscing back to my piano days. I apologize if I sound like I’m ‘humble-bragging’. I started playing the piano when I was six years old and I remember my piano instructor telling my mother that I was one of the most talented students she had ever encountered. Within a few months, I performed a Sonatina at my first piano recital, while other students on the same level as me played Mary Had a Little Lamb. I flew through the lessons, and in all honestly, I enjoyed playing. It was somewhere during my early years when my stubbornness inhaled my understanding and I started to feel piano was tedious and too structured. I was tired of playing the classics and even more exhausted of the technicality that came with everything. All I wanted to do was play Jingle Bell Rock, not Beethoven.

And this was when I started to relent. I slowly started giving up because I was tired of the arguments that came between my parents and I. They wanted to cultivate my talent, I wanted instant gratification. I stopped giving my all into piano and sped through practices simply to get it done rather than to tune up my skills.

At my very last competition, I forgot my piece halfway through. I could feel it coming, and the nervousness began to settle in. Coon mentioned that with artistry, fear and nervousness slowly dissipate because you’ve trained yourself to do something masterful. What was supposed to be muscle memory soon collided with panic and head knowledge. In that moment I began to improvise.

I could sense the judges frantically flipping through my sheet music, wondering where I was, unknowing that I had flown off the sheet. For the first time, I understood the soulful aspect of music, the part that they can’t teach you in class. Music came alive to me, and yet, it wouldn’t have occurred if it weren’t for artistry. If I didn’t understand the theories involved and the countless hours of ruthless practicing, I wouldn’t have been able to create what I did.

Surprisingly enough, I still managed to land a trophy.

It was the last time I competed because I felt you couldn’t put a number on music, or a price tag on art. You can put a label on technicality and precision, but ultimately understanding music is more than a skill, but a personal connection.

I owe all my musicality to the artistry that piano has taught me. To this day when I pick up an instrument, I refer back to what I’ve learned through playing the piano. Artistry is a necessity, whether you start off with talent or with technicality, the need to polish and chisel that said art is essential. I still play the piano, even if it has been awhile since I played straight from sheet music. There’s something so liberating about playing from the soul on a limitless plane that enhances the expression only you can comprehend.

I wish I stuck with coaching and instruction. I wish that my parents didn’t cave in to my frivolous desires and were more strict in the potential that they saw in me. I wish I wasn’t so stubborn and foggy-eyed when it came to mastering and tuning up my talent. I wish I understood the implications and blessings that came with tedious training. I wish a lot of things, but what’s done is done. All I can do now is to be grateful for what has brought me to where I am today.

I hope that whatever art you are manufacturing, you would learn to appreciate the artistry behind it and to persevere throughout. Don’t let the momentary suffering hinder you from the ultimate prize. What seems so formal and structured is actually in preparation for freedom. Artistry liberates.

Let me know your thoughts below in the comment section.

  1. I know I’m a little late to finding this post, but I absolutely love it. (As I love your other blog posts, especially the one about Asian Americans. I am one of those ‘white-washed’ ones who finds it odd to try to alternatively justify being chinese and/or american depending on whom I’m talking to)
    I similarly wish my parents had pushed me to continue dancing ballet when I was young, or had had me take piano lessons. It is very difficult as a young child to comprehend that such rigorous fine tuning and drilling of technique can one day turn into artistry and freedom, so thank you for your eloquent post!!

    And please check out my blog if you’ve got the time 🙂

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