Definition of Mastery LO28318

From: Ray Evans Harrell (
Date: 04/26/02

Replying to LO28251 --

> Ray wrote,
> >When a person has zero virtuosity, they have a ten on the complexity scale.
> >When the complexity scale is zero you have the reverse for virtuosity.
Andrew answered:
> I have no internal knowledge of how it is for musicians, Maestro's or
> otherwise;-) Ray, as a painter the realms of zero and ten are 'non existent'
> in my experience.

Hello Andrew,

I was very careful to define my parameters on my statements. The
development of virtuosity is an order of an advancing skill with a
diminishing sense of what Grotowski calls "resigning from not doing."
Mastery begins after perfection as does Art in my field. I suspect that
the same is true of yours. Mere perfection is like knowing how to talk or
write compared to the works of Shakespeare.

> By the by, I watched a young clarinettist win an international music prize a
> few days ago... I watched him integrate into the field around him. I watched
> especially the mass of tiny body movements, head, eyes, shoulders, legs, and
> feet that on the one hand contributed nothing to his fingers 'playing' but on
> the other hand;-) seemed to be the very source of his immense inner rapport.


> I sense a cleavage in your use of the terminology (dedicated, denoted or
> denuded as the cases may well be;-) because I think I sense that At means to
> speak around the deep well of creation, that place from where and what some
> call the 'commanding vision' comes -- that is to say the initial authorship
> that springs emergent, like Bohm's idea of sentences that first spring
> emergently 'whole' from an emotion then forming into words, -- whereas
> perhaps, perhaps, you are seeking to clarify from the perspective of those
> who must pick up that 'whole' nascently known and rework it, manifolding it
> into the shared present experience for an audience via the more limited
> artistry of the a refined collective team/shared musicianship?

Close but no. The ensemble begins with individual mastery and then
extends to the sharing of that mastery with another Master in a duet or a
team effort. I watched teams do the same on the Adventure Eco-Challenge
New Zealand race this week when the distinction between winning and losing
was defined by the overall mastery of the team while just finishing the
300 mile very dangerous trek depended upon a balancing of team skills in a
kind of student phase of the development of Mastery. Finishing was based
upon the "refined collective team/shared" skills. As for the Art which
you seem to be referring to in the first section, it is post Mastery. i.e.
Mastery is the beginning of the mature artist. Whether creative or
performing art. "Creative" meaning the individual who is in a
psycho-physical pursuit of values in a medium, i.e. sound, movement,
paint, film etc. Performing Artists are translators, recreators of the
values arrived at in the creation of the compositional Master. They take
the work from a time and place in history and translate its values and
intentionality into the language of the present time and place where the
performance takes place. But you know this already. I'm not sure why I'm
saying it.

> A difference between 'illumination' and 'illustration'?
> The only way I can synthesise it this morning is by noting how the late and
> old Picasso deconstructed part of the deep creative psychology of his
> unearthing urges to consider anew the great masters, Valezquez and Rembrandt.

Yes? A kind of "found" object that is then rethought in terms of the
present. I find the explorations of Stravinski's Pulcinella the same.
That is an exploration of older ideas in terms not of the re-creation of a
time and place but an exploration of the "Truth" of that time and place in
the musical language of the present. Something very different from the
re-creation of the performing arts. Example? The Domenico Scarlatti
Essercizi written for the harpsichord are textural masterpieces that are
phenomenal on the harpsichord but impossible on the piano because of the
textural limitations of the piano. In order to make the incredible
textural changes on the piano you literally have to re-write the music.
Otherwise the new instrument plays all the notes but misses Scarlatti's
music. Why play it on the piano? Economies of Scale. The need for big
halls to make the music profitable. The harpsichord does not meet the
standards of the halls that accommodate the large crowds simply turning
the massive chordal shifts into tinkling and muddy clusters.

> The latter for example surpassing him in every department save modernism;-)
> and Picasso's simple artistry was by way of a solution to literally project
> the great painting in a slide/transparency form, over which he played like
> some kid with a bit of tracing paper that keeps slip-sliding over the book of
> history.

I know very skilled artists who take pictures off of the internet and
manipulate their images on the level of the pixel and come up with
completely new ideas. The computer becomes the new tool as relevant as
paint and brush.

> This line of thought makes me wonder.
> Primitive.
> Cezanne wanted to be more 'primitive' get back to his own deep internal
> 'realizations' that married him back into the subject, -- an apple setting or
> a mountain setting. Picasso wanted to be more primitive, like a child is a
> commanding 'primitive'. Ray, what's the value system for recognising the
> virtuosity of the Primitive in music and musicology as you practice it today.

Virtuosity is the skill on the way to perfection. The normal person
considers perfection an obsession or an end in itself. As I said earlier,
zero complexity or "Knowing how to do it perfectly every time" is simply
the tool of the artistic mind, not the art itself. The art is about
knowing and expressing the Truth of the current world in the most
beautiful or exceptional fashion. Truth is the problem as I understand
it. Knowing what is true and what is derivative is tough and is beyond
virtuosity. simply means that if you can "get it" (truth) you have a
decent chance at going to the second step and executing its expression in
a unique and beautiful fashion. Truth is an imaginative interaction with
the world while virtuosity is the capturing of that Truth in your medium.
A psycho-physical pursuit of values (internal/external) in the medium.

> Are people like John Cage primitives?

Hardly. Cage chose to demand that his audience confront the world through
his ears just as Van Gogh did through his eyes. I've seen photographs of
light wave forms that resemble Van Gogh. You can also "find" Cage's
processes on the street but it is the framing of the light by Van Gogh and
the framing of Cage's musical processes in a concert that make's both
Artistic in their pursuit of the values of their medium. Some composers
are as into micro-management as Beethoven while others are more interested
in Macro-management with a unique interaction between their
improvisational performing Masters in an artifact that will exist only in
that moment and then disappear back into the world. I don't find one more
satisfying than the other, only different. Each one tells me a little
more about who I am through the delight of musical thought. I always
loved when Cage said that he would write his music and then have to cut it
free like a child who had to go out into the world and become something.
He also had the good sense to appreciate his offspring's growth. I'm not
sure that the micro-management artists share that delight.

> I know it seems a non LO question but look, part of Picasso's greatest gift
> to humanity was surely to point to the proclivity we all have to forms of
> cannibalisation, negative and positive both/and. In his transforming hands
> cannibalism results in High Art and lifts us ALL up.

That doesn't come from my aesthetic sense.

How many 'so called'
> leaders in commerce and politics could benefit from a day in a studio where
> instead of negatively cannibalising the limited resources of a whole
> connected people and ecology more widely they discovered ways to revalue
> (re-evaluate) and uplift it.

That would be nice.

> Of course this would involve intense
> deconstructions of their ego, maybe even some metanoia. Mmmmmm. Would they be
> up for it. Pension time is so unutterably close and the markets so jittery;-)
> It is like a gift within a gift and may be learned, to see through things, as
> Picasso could, and there are those like van Gogh as Picasso acknowledged, who
> crucially could see 'beyond' them.

Artists are, for me, the professional perceivers and expressers of all
societies. They should raise the consciousness of all members of society
if they are doing their jobs.

> In the 'quantum' age I hold to a belief, that it is possible to begin to
> learn how to build the bridge between the two kinds (kinder-child) over the
> gulf Picasso felt unbridgeable between himself and Vincent. It is said that
> for Picasso the seeing of the 'something else beyond' was unattainable.

I've often wondered if Van Gogh actually saw what he painted. In that
case Picasso's eyes were not the same. We all have different eyes in ways
that the ears are not different from one another. I take that bridge very
concretely. I don't think it can be reasoned or thought through. It
seems a limitation based upon the instrument.

> The
> 'something else' is not that 'complex', nor that 'simple' but a perfect
> asymmetrical chord, woven;-) between the two, an affinity between simple
> and complex, a something more.

Are you saying that it can be learned? I'm not so sure. If it can be
learned then it is a system that can be built through practice with the
instrument. I have wondered if Van Gogh's visions were not built around
his experience with certain chemicals that he worked with. I have an
early experience with Lead poisoning and it changed the way that I thought
and perceived things. It caused limitations but opened other doorways
that normal people do not understand or even perceive. I simply hear
things differently than many people. Some call it my "gift." I didn't
think so at the time and it has it's curse as well.

> "Something greater than I." Is what Vincent called
> it, himself;-) It is there in Vincent, it was waiting there in Picasso but
> wasn't in his nature;-) and it is there, according to some, in Beethoven's
> very last quartets.

There is a case to be made for Beethoven's micro-management tied to his
deafness (being encased) that forced his talent through a very small
doorway into another place that he would have never known. I don't know.
It is more helpful for me to consider my situation a "gift" but never
having known the other I cannot tell whether it was or not. I choose to
think that Beethoven was a great mind who, like Bach, would play endlessly
with the implications of the overtone system within melodies, counterpoint
and harmony until he had exhausted himself, e.g. the Hammerklavier Fugue
which stopped fugue writing dead in its tracks for nearly one hundred
years. There is a place where I think Beethoven (who I love) was really
interested in killing musical forms or if not killing, at least "finishing
them off." His colors and complexity, however, were totally built around
resonance and its implications. His sense of rhythm was quite simple

> At, maybe I feel I can ask only you this question and then rest creatively
> uneasy;-) in any answer...
> Not what but where is the limit of our mastery to become found?

I'll let you guys talk about that. My time is very tight due to producing
a Biennial Arts Festival in New York that will honor the composer Ned
Rorem. The count down has begun and designing this festival is going to
occupy all of my time for a while. I will lurk now for a while. I'm
sorry but I must just read your thoughts for a while. If I don't answer
please understand. Thanks for your thoughts.

Ray Evans Harrell


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