Management, Musicians, Missions

In many cities across America, including my own, the  survival and the very idea of an orchestra is under assault by the people who have been entrusted with their development and financial sustenance: management and boards.

Orchestra musicians, have, within the current system, relinquished responsibility for repertoire, contractual obligations, and working conditions to people who are not musicians and usually have no vested interest in the orchestra other than as a means to acquire social or business advantages. (Union representation is marginalized.)
Symphonies, as well as museums, ballet companies, and theatre companies are non-profit organizations. And, since profit is something that carries great weight in capitalist America as an indicator of "success," the governing boards, usually made up of non-musical corporate leaders, can't wrap their heads around the amazing fact that cultural entities aren't businesses: their success lies in the quality of aesthetic experience they bring to their audiences. They can't be run like businesses. And, "making money" is not part of their mission or obligation. Art is their mission.

But we seem stuck with the corporate business formula: "lean, clean business machine." "Reduce overhead,"( i.e., personnel), increase hours, reduce salaries and benefits, hire marketers, advertise, heavily, after "re-branding" and revising the "mission statement." Appalling  thoughts, appalling language: appalling results.

For instance: a 100 piece orchestra can deliver the demanding music of Wagner, Mahler, Bruckner, Shostakovich, or Ravel. A 75 piece band, less so, and a 50 piece band, not well. And yet, the latter size is the current formula for a "successful business model" of  management-boards. Thus, come reductions in repertoire: fewer performances, if at all, of larger works for orchestra and chorus. The knowledgeable members of the audience become bored with the predictable musical "chestnuts," and they don't re-subscribe. They crave more music of our time, from late 19th-21st century, to balance the "classics." They want to hear the lesser-known works; they want to be surprised. The musicians want to be inspired; refreshed by new musical challenges.

Another important factor unrecognized by boards and management is that an orchestra is made up of musicians who, through the process of many rehearsals and performances grow, organically, into a cohesive unit. The seamlessness of truly great performances depends on players who listen to one another, respect one another, and inspire each other. It is a "family," and when it has worked together for many years, gives us a sound which is unique to it, and to no other orchestra. (The Philadelphia Sound, The Berlin Sound, etc.) This takes time to develop. A great orchestra can't develop within a policy of adding temporary players here and there to perform works requiring larger forces. "Temp" workers may be useful in the business world, but it's no way to run an orchestra, i.e., make really great music.

There are so many reasons to respect the musical profession. Musicians, who are exceptionally intelligent, have advanced degrees, own expensive instruments, practice many hours a day besides rehearsals, have children in college, mortgages, attend church, and epitomize  American values of self-improvement and hard work. They make many important contributions to society. Generous, good citizens, all.

Orchestras represent the cooperative community spirit by which, it is said, American society is inspired. They bring original thinking in the form of art, something which boards, dominated by corporate conformists and shaped by marketing stratagems, seem unable to grasp. It's not the same thing as selling soap.

Keep the orchestra, fire the board.

Van Cliburn, In Memorium: a selfless artist

Nothing could sum up the overall career of the pianist, Van Cliburn, who died the other day at 78, than the remark he made after being showered with confetti during a parade down Broadway in New York, following his win at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1958. He said, modestly, "how wonderful it was that so many people were cheering Classical Music."

Could that happen, today? Do American still cheer Classical Music?  Do we care when an American musician wins an international competition? Or, does it even matter if they are American, now in this global age?

Suggestion: "google" international music competitions and see who the winners are. Suggest to your local non-profit music associations that they should engage these artists while they are still affordable. That's how my hometown became acquainted with the violinist, Augustin Haedelich, at a museum concert, following his winning of the Indianapolis Violin Competition several years ago. He has returned to play with the Symphony 3 times since. Let's encourage them in every way.

Why artists die old (generally, with exceptions)

Art is a healthy occupation. Yes, there are artists who have succumbed, too young, to cancers caused by inhalation of dangerous carcinogens in modern materials: plastics, latex, aerosol sprays.The names of three extraordinary modern women artists leap to mind: Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, and Nancy Graves. And, we are familiar with Van Gogh's bizarre behavior ending in his self-inflicted death at an early age, precipitated by years of excessive coffee drinking, brandy drinking, absinth drinking, and a diet of mostly paint, bread and the intense heat of Provence. All of this combined, surely wrecked his kidney with toxins, leading to scrambled thoughts and tragedy.

We would have to add AIDs, dangerous behaviors, heroin, cocaine, sudden success an early age, to the causes of premature deaths. Famous examples, artists in their 20's and 30's: Basquiat, Haring, and the original "bad boy," Caravaggio, from a much earlier century.

And, if, in the 1950's and 1960's, such artists as Rothko, Pollock, Kline, Gorky, and David Smith could have avoided Clement Greenberg and the perils of middle age: "discovery" by Life magazine, divorce, drinking, sports cars, fancy young women and hairpin turns in the road, the usual mid-life crisis........

But, as I searched, albeit in an unscientific manner, the life spans of artists from the Renaissance to contemporary times, I found that artists, generally, live to very old age, the majority them reaching the upper numbers of the seventh decade, eight decade, ninth decade, and even beyond! This, even in times of plague, consumption, absolute monarchies, dictators, world wars, critics and no antibiotics. A tough bunch of cookies.

For the fun of it, a chart, with age at death, for the cognoscenti:

70: William Blake
71: Constable, Cellini, Mondrian, Diebenkorn
72: Vuillard, Barbara Hepworth, Poussin, Thomas Eakins
73: El Greco, Pissarro
74:Leger, Fragonard, Winslow Homer, Charles Burchfield, Francis Picabia
75: Edward Hopper
76: Redon, Caspar David Friedrich, Tintoretto, Turner
77: Gentile Bellini, Archipenko, Rosa Bonheur, John Singleton Copley,
Rodin, Tiepolo
78: Kandinsky, Käthe Kollwitz, Otto Dix
79: Max Weber, Jean Arp, Jacques Louis David, Corot, Sol LeWitt

80: Bonnard, Chardin, Rauschenberg
81: Mary Cassatt, Lucas Cranach, Brancusi, Braque, Munch, Duchamp
82: Nathan Oliveira, Lipchitz, Bernini, Claude Lorrain
83: Degas, Maillol, Rauschenberg
84: Noguchi
85: Max Ernst, Matisse, Frans Hals
86: Claude Monet, Mark Tobey
87: Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Ingres
88: Max Liebermann, Chagall, Josef Albers
89: James Ensor, Titian, Louise Nevelson

90: Adolph Menzel, Joan Miró
91: Morris Graves
92: Picasso
99: Georgia O'Keefe

And, the grand winner! Dorothea Tanning, at 102, beating "Grandma" Moses: sexy surrealist scores over naïve folk artist.

A closing thought: Art makes for strange bed-fellows in Heaven. Can you imagine the conversations between the 71 year olds: Cellini, Constable,
Mondrian, and Diebenkorn, or that between Menzel and Miró; each from a different era with different notions about making art, the patronage, the relationship to their contemporary culture?  Or, those 79 year olds, Weber, Arp, David, Corot and LeWitt! [Note: Here is an art phantasy, waiting to be imagined.]

Beethoven, Love, and the violinist, Augustin Haedelich

This week, a deeply fulfilling performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto was given, in the truest sense of the word, "gift," by the young German violinist, Augustin Haedelich. With the responsive collaboration of the members of the Jacksonville Symphony, the nuance, spiritual breadth, and transcendental translation of Beethoven's musical intentions was achieved. The orchestra was plainly inspired by Haedelich's musical persona, while the audience grew still with the kind of rapt communion found only when something very special is happening. They know it: the violinist knows it, the orchestra knows it, and the conductor is almost superfluous because of it.

To paraphrase the worlds of a old movie hero: "The Force was with them."

©Margaret Koscielny, February 16, 2013

"From the heart---may it go to the heart"

This famous inscription at the top of Beethoven's manuscript of his greatest work, The Missa Solemnis, expresses an intention that many artists and composers might have in the act of creation.

Larger themes of life, the common experiences which bind humanity together, such as those expressed in the great novels of Thomas Wolfe, the great choral works of the 19th century, or paintings from every era, seem in short order in our highly compressed, technologically-driven, "marketed" contemporary art world.

Is there room in our time and our minds for those larger, profoundly-human ideas which move us as deeply as Beethoven's music? Is there a place for that intimacy?

Beethoven was an angry, argumentative, frustrated man who lost his hearing, was isolated from a normal, affectionate relationship with the woman he yearned for: a recipe for violence; except, genius combined with spiritual depth, faith, and his feeling of hope for mankind's evolution. The energy of his struggle was directed into music which inspires us and lifts us to a high spiritual plane.

Unfortunately, much of our contemporary culture reduces expression of the most extreme human emotions to mis-spelled texts, tweets, digital appropriations of other artists images, shallow lyrics of popular songs, or, at the worst, expletive-ridden speech, even wrathful, destructive, violent behavior.

How will artists channel their deepest expressions of what it means to be human, to merge the stream of art tradition with new media which offer so many possibilities for communication?

Video, performance, gigantic technological tours de force, environmental manipulations, and spectacular events overwhelm, thrill and impress. What is the residue of the experience? So many contemporary art events are unique events. So, is overwhelming sensation, alone, enduring? Is the heart involved, other than beating, temporarily, in rhythm to the event? Does it carry that rhythm into one's soul?

"From the heart---may it go to the heart." An intimate connection through art which assures us we are not alone. A criterium for all era.

The Unanswered Question

The most prevalent question I have ever received as an artist is: "How did you make this?"

The most distressing variant of this question came early one morning in a telephone call from a stranger who had seen my sculpture at a local museum. "My boyfriend and I would like to know how you make your sculptures, because we would like to make some, just like them, so we could sell them!"

The first question is usually well-meant, or made with the embarrassment of not knowing how to talk to an artist about her work. It reveals several things about the general public. First, they may have had, generally little, or no, experience manipulating art material in their public education. Nor, any art appreciation courses.

Second, I believe it reveals a particularly American obsession with manufacturing and process, as opposed to a ready acquaintance with the artistic vocabulary of ideas that might be more readily found in European cultures who have a strong tradition of art exposure and education.

It represents a material point of view, rather than a spiritual communication. If I launch into a description of the process for these folks, they seem impressed with the amount of labor, which they believe determines the price of the work.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, but that's my secret!

Many times, the way something is made becomes a non-memory, as when one creates in a state of emotion, such as after September 11, 2001. The residue of feeling resonates, and methods are irrelevant: the work just flows.

As an artist, how would you have answered these questions?


Work, or Play?

An artist's day is filled with arresting moments when a fresh vision of something familiar appears quite by accident: something in one's environment, works recently completed, or works-in-progress. Light streaming through a window, shining on a familiar object, perhaps: then, creation gets really interesting.

Puttering around the studio can also release one from set ways of thinking and seeing. This is often the means to a breakthrough into new territory, even new uses for old media. This happened to me a few years ago when I decided to clean out my flat files. Tearing up work from graduate school and other works on paper from over a 50 year career, I looked down at the mess at my feet and saw such wonderful juxtapositions of media, shapes, colours of paintings, mixed with black and white drawings and prints, that suddenly, there was possibility in the old "stuff." From that came "Recreations," a series of collages named after the fragment of a title from an early engraving, entitled, whimsically, "Recreation among the Microbes." Recreation (play) translated into re-creation.

Isn't that what artists do? Play, and constantly re-create. All that talk about "one's work," when musicians speak more honestly, about "playing" their instruments. The "work" is not the "doing" of it: it's the talking about it, the framing it, the exhibition of it, the selling of it. And, that seems to be the thing non-artists are most interested in talking to artists about, because that relates to their work: with results, measurable and material.

But, there's so much more to art and life.

LightStudyMaquette#1 copy.jpg

Can Anybody Still Draw? January 15, 2013

An English curator who wrote a recent  book about the history of drawing posited that the newest generation of artists can't draw because they are suffering from the effects of Disney, Japanese kitsch, video games, and the inevitable decline in original and critical thinking in public education.

I believe there is still quite a bit of original thinking among young artists, but they do often suffer from a lack of skills manipulating traditional media. Drawing, as a subject for serious study has been dropped from many university and art school curricula in Great Britain, according to the author.  If this is the case, it would equal removing the study of anatomy and dissection of cadavers from  medical school curricula. Because: drawing is the skeleton for ideas, for the composition, for the realization of the artist's intentions. The result, without this structure, is a superficial image. It is only to be expected in a time of overload of two-dimensional digital images from TV, computers, I-phones, ad nauseum. Art seems to be feeding on the vaccuous, materialistic imagery of contemporary culture, and not one's own imagination.

Some artists are returning to the academic rendering of visible reality, and occasionally, in inventive ways. Unfortunately, using photography through copying,  as the basis for seeing the subject makes for a de-humanized image. To interact with the model or the subject, directly, seems to be a lost art, with the vision which could result, with a drawing that is alive with the artist's action in response to the subject. One only need remember the visceral quality of Picasso's work.

But the freer execution of gesture is found in the works of some senior contemporary artists, for example, the German artist, Anselm Kiefer, who has treated painting as drawing for decades, sometimes incorporating photographs on which he has drawn or painted. He has proved that works on very large surfaces can be made using drawing and even printmaking media.

The intimacy of a direct drawing is, perhaps, too intimate for a generation who has not taken the time to establish the necessary understanding of how the marriage of medium, support and idea works. The advice of a  "drawer" with over 60 years of experience: slow down, look, feel, and love the material, and the subject you work with. And imagine something all your own.


Where is the Magic? January 14, 2013

There is a growing concensus among art professionals that marketing and public relations coupled with commercialism is affecting what is presented as "art" at present. Coupled with the lack of connoisseurship on the part of collectors and sometimes even art dealers, quality is declining in the skill of making art as well as the images, themselves. Meaning is lost. Obvious contemporary political and social messages prevail, while  subtlety, enigma, mystery, and spiritual insights are too often absent.

As the late sculptor, Christopher Wilmarth once said, exiting an exhibition at a gallery in New York, "If it hasn't got magic, it's only merchandise."

"Worlds within worlds: Anti-worlds," 1985 Engraved, lighted 3-drawing assemblage   8' x 4' x 4' plexiglas and glass

"Worlds within worlds: Anti-worlds," 1985
Engraved, lighted 3-drawing assemblage

8' x 4' x 4' plexiglas and glass

Oysters and Pearls January 2, 2013

A new web page, after 10 years with Jim Audette's beautiful design. But, as with everything else, it is time to trim all excess of vanity: to edit and simplify. We hope to make a new web site, again, of elegance. Please be patient, as I am advanced in age and mind, and a new technological learning curve is up ahead!