Wynton Marsalis on the gifting of art

From Brainpickings:

Jazz Legend Wynton Marsalis on the Magic of Music

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The thing about jazz, through all the business involved in practicing and improvement, it’s always sweet: the improvement that you notice in the ability to express yourself, the feeling of playing, pushing yourself out into an open space through a sound, man. That’s an unbelievable feeling, an uplifting feeling of joy to be able to express the range of what you feel and see, have felt and have seen. A lot of this has nothing to do with you. It comes from another time, another space. To be able to channel those things and then project them though an instrument, that’s something that brings unbelievable joy.

His most beautiful observation, however, has to do with the opposite of what music gives the musician and extols, instead, what the musician gives to the world. He recounts a heartening anecdote from the road, while touring in Istanbul:

We were close to a housing project. A girl sat up on the balcony, she was maybe thirteen or fourteen. The people kept saying, “She speaks English, she’s studying English in school.” So she spoke a little broken English, talked to us. Then she disappeared. Dusk started to come on. After a moment, she reappeared, coming down to the street with some Turkish coffee for us in what had been her family’s best silverware. She poured it and stood there while we drank it. It was tender, man; had a sweetness to it. And that’s the soulful thing about playing: you offer something to somebody. You don’t know if they’ll like it, but you offer it.

Wynton Marsalis

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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2 Responses to Wynton Marsalis on the gifting of art

  1. Les Norton says:

    It’s interesting to see this post just a week after your “Potters Pride and A game” Post.

    When Winton said: ” and that’s the soulful thing, about playing: you offer something to somebody. You don’t know if they’ll like it, but you offer it”. It resonated for me the idea that you don’t make your pottery/art because you are trying to please someone else, you make it because it’s just something that you have to do. You offer up your very best because nothing less will do. It shouldn’t matter if someone excepts it into there world (ART) it should only matter that you have put your heart and soul into your work and put it out for the world to see. I much rather have bike mechanic tell me that he loves drinking out of my mug every morning as his day starts to wind up then have some ART gallery critic say my work is marvelous and he knows just the right collector who would put it on a shelf somewhere to never be used or even looked at.

    Forget about the “A” ART world and be proud that, like Winton’s Istanbul girl, the common person love’s your work enough to use and cherish it every day.

    • Totally agree!

      Just to be clear, I am not advocating that pots be necessarily treated as the ‘hands-off’ markers of genius that the ‘A’ game plays. I’m against the pretensions of ‘A’ art. What I’m really trying to suggest is that humility belongs in that world more than the celebrity does. I’m not trying to take pots to the space of cultural glorification that the collector’s market relies on as much as I’m trying to take the ‘A’ game back to the human centered everyday excellence that surrounds us when we simply do the best we can do, as you say..

      We all have things to share with others. If we care enough about what we do we sometimes feel this can add to the beauty and depth of the world. Sometimes it makes a difference. Sometimes that difference gets written about and used to explain an establishment version of ‘superior’ culture. That doesn’t mean what we are doing is extraordinary in an earth shattering way that ‘A’ arts culture tends to project. There are wonders in the world, but that doesn’t make them somehow otherworldly. If there is magic in the world it also is the magic in ordinary and everyday circumstances. In my opinion there is every bit as much value in serving Turkish coffee to strangers and in a bike mechanic drinking from a handmade mug every day. Sure the Mona Lisa is a great painting, but this?

      There is something perverse with our culture that turns respect into celebrity. Celebrity takes on a life of its own, and the mythology that surrounds it has less and less to do with anything reasonable after a while…… That’s not a game that any human creativity should play.

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