The other day I was talking to a vocal student about Da Capo arias from the Baroque. I once had them explained to me as “One emotion or sentiment is expressed, then a major mood shift, then back to the original”. It works, it gets the point across. It’s a reduction of the form itself, but certainly get’s students to understand the performance aspect of those pieces.
As I was discussing it with my student I got a little carried away and it sent me on a thought tangent. I mentioned how everything in humanity evolves together–music, architecture, technology, even human thoughts and emotional processing–because the human mind collectively evolves together the more and more we come in contact with one another.
So, for example, now that we have the internet, intellectuals gain vocabulary and ideas from one another within hours of their thoughts having been thought and shared. Everyone who reads their words and allows them to expand their knowledge will evolve to a new level of understanding and have new words to express something more specifically than it was expressed before. Before we had the quick and constant communication of the internet, there were certainly intellectuals. However, the further we go back in history the harder it was for their words to have been read by the majority of the population. Its not that individuals with their own thoughts didn’t have brilliant ideas and amazing words for to express those thoughts, but not everyone was reading those words, or hearing them, let alone thinking critically about them. Our thought is evolving exponentially faster because of the potential for shared information on the internet–even false information. Those of us willing to read, to access, to critically think and consider, we are growing and learning daily from the collective hive mind of the internet.
As for emotions, I mentioned to my student that our expression and our understanding of complex processes like grief or heartbreak were fully felt throughout the history of time, and often written about, painted or otherwise expressed through artistic means–but those expressions were not always shared or spread as quickly as they are now.
Van Gogh, for example, was a brilliant painter with the ability to use color so that it depicted emotion and feeling. He painted how he felt, not necessarily how reality would see something, but how he personally felt it. Still, it took his tragic and lonesome death for his artwork to be appreciated.
Similarly, Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 BCE) wrote words which were beautifully expressive of the process of love and heartbreak. Those words were written before the common era and waited until 1982 to meet their musical match in Dominic Argento’s composition I Hate and I Love. I don’t think any other genre or time period could have expressed the intensity of those words, their imagery, their pain, quite the same as Argento’s did. It took 2,000 years for them to be communicated in a genre beyond written words. It took 2,000 years for that expression of emotion to meet another and become the emotional genius that is I Hate and I Love.
Historically, there were literally less words in the human vocabulary, less specific and universal understanding of those words, less techniques of uninhibited artistic expression with which to convey those words. Even the most expressive works based on human thought or emotion did not travel too far outside their origin as quickly as things have the potential to now.
Music grew, in depth and understanding, from the simplistic understanding of emotion through da capo arias, and by the romantic era you have through-composed arias which literally change feeling from phrase to phrase, moment to moment, bar to bar, note to note–all as a result of the developments that came before it being reinterpreted and pushed further. This is a sign of the human capacity for emotional expression growing! To me, changing mood every other phrase is much more accurate an expression of the process of going through intense emotions like grief. It’s more cognitive of the individual thoughts that lead us through the emotional processing.
Not to say that before then humans didn’t have the emotions or didn’t feel as deeply, but our understanding was limited, and those with understanding didn’t have their expression shared as easily or readily as now. Without the words, or the composition/technical development, or the social/political FREEDOM to express, or the communication for that expression to be widely heard, or the cognition to hear the thoughts that are triggered by our feelings, or the psychology to understand thoughts as thoughts and not as messages from a god–how could some minds develop beyond the necessities of survival and forced beliefs, beyond political and religious censorship?
Words further musical expression. Musical expression furthers written and spoken expression. Art influences art. Art in different mediums makes understanding and emotional growth more accessible. Emotional and intellectual evolution is fueled by artistic expression of the human condition. Art is necessary for humanity to grow.
Art is NECESSARY for our intellectual and emotional evolution as individuals and as a collective existence. It is necessary to our self discovery as humans. It challenges humanity to look at itself in a way that politics and religion fail to do on their own.
Art is necessary. So are other things, like communication, technology, freedom of expression and thought. But art…. all art… is necessary.