CC by TakingITGlobal via Wikimedia Commons

Too many artists embrace a mystical, new-agey approach to creativity that is completely counterproductive. There’s nothing magical about being creative; it’s just something you train your brain to do through practice. It’s part biology and part routine, and Chuck Close perhaps sums it up most eloquently when he says, “Just show up and get to work.” The way I write music is not mathematical by any stretch of the imagination, and I rely heavily on intuition, but fairytales are not required.

I wonder sometimes if new-agey, feel-good attitudes in the arts are simply the unfortunate byproduct of an artistic temperament: a sort of mental ground hum that comes from plugging the creative mind into the same neurons that power other human emotions. Maybe so, but when I read something like Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, it becomes very clear that the world’s great artists are overwhelmingly immune to any such interference. They have strongly engrained routines, yes, and they may guard those to the point of superstition. They may also lead highly religious or mystical lives outside of art. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the creative act itself, great artists are extremely down to earth. Read on ››

Violinist David Garrett, photo CC by Dove Bongartz via Wikimedia Commons

Slate’s Mark Vanhoenacker published a statistics-laden (and admittedly sympathetic) “requiem” on the death of classical music last week. True, if you look at classical music through the lens of pop music, you might be forgiven for seeing a ER patient gasping for breath on a Beyonce-embossed hospital bed. But it’s been a long time since classical and pop music have competed for the same prizes, and that’s the problem with his argument: Vanhoenacker fundamentally misunderstands what classical music is about in the 21st century. Classical isn’t the same cultural beast as pop—not anymore anyway. It might not ever be again, and that doesn’t matter in the least for its survival. Read on ››

Photo CC by Jesus Solana, on Flickr

Why exactly do rich people give money to the arts? If you think about it, the two are strange bedfellows: wealth usually begets conservatism while the arts tilt overwhelmingly liberal. Granted, there are certainly rich liberals, but I think there’s more to it than that—after all, some of the biggest arts donors in the USA are also some of the biggest backers of the Tea Party, and red states are significantly more philanthropic than blue ones. Why would conservatives give money to liberal causes like art?

You could simply say that rich conservatives support art because some of them enjoy art. Or, that since the rich have the most money, donors will by definition come from that group. But that’s an incomplete answer, and it doesn’t match what we see in philanthropy statistics. Among high net worth donors, the arts is the #3 most widespread category in terms of charitable giving, just after education and basic needs—but ahead of health and religion. For non-wealthy donors, religion is the #1 most common recipient and art doesn’t make it into the rankings. Read on ››

composer jocelyn morlock

Music on Main composer-in-residence Jocelyn Morlock recently interviewed me and a series of other composers, ranging from Louis Andriessen to David Lang, Gary Kulesha, and Kaija Saariaho. The result is her fascinating Compendium of Ideas About Form in Music, which I would encourage you to read in full.

In Morlock’s words:

I asked some of the leading composers of our time to tell us their thoughts on form in music: what form means to them, how they structure their music, if/how they make formal plans, thoughts on repetition, audible structure from the listener’s viewpoint, and how their ideas on form have changed over the course of their careers.

Her narrative weaves together bits and pieces of the composers’ responses. She also includes the full responses at the end, though they’re a little hard to navigate, so I’ve reprinted my answers here as well: Read on ››

Young Entrepreneurs Forum 2012, CC by US Embassy, on Flickr

We live at a time that prizes entrepreneurship above all else, and this is bad for art. Not that entrepreneurs are out to destroy the arts, it’s just that artistic and business innovation are fundamentally antagonistic. Yes, entrepreneurs have unquestionably created value for the arts, but the actual business is always one step removed from the actual art. At best, entrepreneurship provides stuff for artists to sell and then gets the hell out of the way. At worst, entrepreneurship turns art and artists into disposable commodities.

Unfortunately, our societal love affair with entrepreneurship has confused this relationship. Suddenly all artists are expected to be business innovators, as if coming up with a marketing plan were the self-evident first step in the artistic process. Read on ››