The popular conception is a hard thing to qualify. It is difficult to define a common view because there are so many common views. Yet it can be done. At least insofar as setting the stage for social, psychological, historical, and philosophical analysis.
There do seem to be pervasive opinions that though rarely vocalized may as well be set in stone.
For instance, everyone always expects artists and musicians to be young. At least no older than thirty. This is strange.
It might be because most bands that society is currently familiar with made their mark in their twenties.
There may be some biological reasons for youths blessing of artistic endeavors.
Neurology and the endocrine system come to mind. Then there are the social and psychological variables.
First there is the naivete that’s fertile ground for creative exploration, then there is abundant energy to till that ground, and finally, there is a drive to define and prove oneself. Society also fosters and encourages young creators* whereas there is a greater onus on the mature to be ‘responsible’ and ‘settled in.’
All these factors seem to wane as people age into their thirties. So is it meant to be? Should everyone north of thirty settle into the proverbial accountant’s office and repair their gutters on the weekends?
First, there are many examples of artists who didn’t ‘make it’ until ‘later’ in life. Andreas Bocelli and Leonard Cohen to name a couple.
Second, there are many examples of artists who continued creating masterpieces throughout their lives. Bach springs to mind. As do Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, and Stevie Wonder.
Third, if one decides to view life as having many stages, then each stage of life has its own music its own landscapes to offer.
To begin the analysis of creative stages of life let’s examine the art of the young.
The case can be made that the young are too histrionic to produce anything of lasting value. As evidence, one can cite the similarity of subject matter and delivery of bands in the last century.
First, there is the sex, drugs, and joyously cacophonous ROCK starting somewhere around the time of ‘The Doors’ and lasting well through the eighties hair-metal scene. Libidinous excess and boundary flaunting tests of one’s limits through psychedelics and alcohol aren’t the only tritely recurring sins of the young.
There is also the angst and neurotic introspection of Grunge, Alternative, and Progressive genres that cropped up in the late eighties and still hold sway into the era of whistling ironic ukulele hipsterdom. Are maudlin sentiment and bitter emotion really the best subjects to set to music? The young musicians of the last three decades seem to think so.
Given its subject matter and focus, the art of the young has unsurprisingly taken a morbid turn. The 27 Club is ‘a notional roll of remembrance’ that pays homage to the fact that many of the 20th centuries musical luminaries died young. Numbers can be mystic things and the fact that Jim Morrisson, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse all died at 27 lends an air of tragic magic to that arbitrary figure. Hence the ‘colloquialization’ of ‘27 Club.’
Death has a certain finality that often lends weight and perceived substance to the art of those who passed. ‘The good die young.’
The audience ‘knew’ these folks as an explosion, as a passionate flame that burned too bright and quick, and suddenly there is the mystery of eternal silence. What more would they have made would they have said? What secret pain, what uniquely anguished insight not accessible to average joe, did these brilliant people harbor? What was it that made people who wrote such tuneful and evocative things so self-destructive?
It would be wrong to characterize these artists as immature. It is a silly business indeed to hover over history like a daft-shrink-bog-wraith psychoanalyzing the minutiae of the lives of its actors. Yet there does seem to be an air of self-fulfilling prophecy to the art of the young.
The deification of such art, the raising of it to some sort of deep expression of the human condition, while at times valid, can also be foolish and dangerous. It is the former because foolish and dangerous things are indeed a part of the human condition. It is the latter because despite the melodic and lyrical finesse of such works they were tainted by hormones and substance abuse. A tainting that leads to a sort of ‘Opera Buffa‘ where those who gained much admiration and success, freshly minted aristocrats in a sense, weren’t sated by such things and chose to become a tragedy for a convoluted sense of authenticity or psychic chaos magnified by chemicals and overcharged emotions.
The creative stages seem to fit pretty neatly into the categories of the prodigy, the rockstar, the craftsman, and the master.
- The Rockstar has already been discussed, the rockstar is the art of the young, it is somebody that might very well be talented or not so talented but they have something to say and by God, they will say it.
- The preceding ‘Prodigy’ is a precocious child with uncanny technical skills and well-directed enthusiasm.
- The Craftsman is a stage that comes after prodigy and rockstar and is a person dedicated to the disciplined acquisition of skills and diligent creative output who has a broader repertoire of life experience to draw from and can do so effectively and judiciously.
- The Master is the craftsman after many years of practice. One can look to Bach responding to the challenge of Friderich the II, improvising a three and then six-part fugue on a theme presented by that monarch.
The space of this essay will only allow the exploration of two out of four of the stages of creative life. So in light of all the information considered which would be best to unpack?
Since the ‘rockstar’ has been addressed it seems fitting to move next in line to ‘the craftsman.’
As the world approaches the cusp of a new decade, is it not fitting to promote a new sort of ‘27 Club’? Why not popularly consider 27 to mark the beginning of careers rather than looking with perverse expectation towards the demise of heroically dysfunctional musicians?
Twenty-seven may, in fact, be the perfect time to start a band. One still has abundant energy which can be used in conjunction with greater mastery over one’s emotions to select which insights and life experiences to magnify through art. Further, it is a time when hormonal needs and spastic bursts of energy will be less of a barrier to serious practice. Your bandmates are more likely to show up on time.
Why disparage the rockstar and highlight the craftsman?
The prodigy, the rockstar, and the master need no encouragement. They will do what they do as a matter of compulsion. The craftsman is the most suspicious of compulsion. As a person moving further into adulthood and feeling the weight of experience, the craftsman becomes wary and guarded, sensing a profounder need to be ‘serious and secure.’
Sometimes this need to be ‘serious and secure,’ to be a steady sort, manifests itself as studied avoidance of creative endeavors. Partly because one is keenly determined to avoid wasting time which has greater weight than ever before. Partly because one wants to avoid seeming gauche.
The truth is that music and art are never a waste of time. They sharpen all the skills and faculties necessary to succeed in work and relationships. Communication and synthesis are two skills most readily and deeply refined through creative endeavor. Atop this boon, there is another in that the magnification of life through art makes you very appreciative of even the most mundane and prosaic aspects of living.
There is nothing gauche about loving life or succeeding in relationships and the workplace.
These stages are of course guides rather than rules. Some may find themselves at a place of overlapping stages. Whatever stage you’re at…what are you waiting for?
Go forth and create.
*There will soon be another essay on the unique challenges of creative youths in the present college and structure obsessed society that purports itself to be a bastion of free-thinking creativity.
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