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Artists Don’t Think

How’s that for a clickbaity headline?  Well, it’s a general statement, but I think it’s defensible, and I’m going to try to do so, here.

I related the story here, a couple of times, how my highly educated, doctorate degree, former piano teacher in college couldn’t understand how the escapement mechanism of a piano utterly precludes the idea that you can wiggle a piano key and get vibrato out of a piano.  It just doesn’t happen (well, there are digital pianos now with special keyboards that make it possible… thirty years later).  It’s not because the guy wasn’t smart.  He got a doctorate and was really good at piano.  You don’t get that good by being dumb.

It was that he didn’t know how to think.  Because he was an artist.

For all of his high education, even as a lowly, 20-or-so-year-old undergraduate, I was better at thinking.

I hesitate to say I was smarter, though it’s probably true.  It’s much more accurate to say in this context that I was just better at thinking.  I’m not saying I was more skilled because clearly I wasn’t.  I’m still not.  I will likely never be as good a pianist as he was even then.  But I was smarter, and there’s a distinction.

If you know how a piano escapement works, you understand that you hit the key, and the sole purpose of the action when hitting that key is to hit the string and then immediately fly back so that the string is free to vibrate freely.  If you look inside the piano, you’ll see that that’s the case.  The key doesn’t move to the left or the right, it just sits there until you lift it up and (some of the time) cause the felt damper to hit the string and cause it to stop vibrating.  Anyone who thinks would know that.  Or at least anyone who’s curious enough to look at the mechanism and realize there’s no way it’s possible and you’re just hearing things.

This may because he’s an artist at heart with no leanings at all towards engineering, and I’m an engineer at heart with some leanings towards music.

Scott Adams is an insufferable jerk who thinks he’s smarter than he really is, but he’s not dumb, and he does possess the ability to think.  And one thing he’s noticed – and so did I as he brought it to my attention – is that most of the people who criticize him for stupid reasons are artists.  In fact, that seems to be almost a one to one rule.  If someone criticizes you for stupid reasons, they’re probably an artist (there are exceptions, such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson – how someone as ostensibly smart as him can be so stupid is utterly beyond me…)  This is because an artist’s job isn’t to think, an artist’s job is to feel, and then to help us to feel whatever it is that they’re feeling or supposed to be representing.  They can be very successful at that, but they don’t know how much they don’t know, because they haven’t been taught to think well enough to even ask that question.

(By the way, Scott Adams is an insufferable jerk who thinks he’s smarter than he really is – but I still find his insights valuable sometimes and check in with him every now and then.  But I also don’t take everything he says one hundred percent seriously.  He’s still human.  This is as opposed to Jordan Peterson, who is an insufferable jerk who thinks he’s smarter than he really is and I block him online every time I see him.  I’ve gotten everything I need out of him.  He used to have valuable insights, but now he’s just a jerk with nothing further to offer me.)

This is why singers, actors, etc., have such utterly stupid political views most of the time.

I have noticed that my ability to think gives me a major leg up when it comes to music and the piano that I didn’t even know I had thirty years ago.  It’s not that I’m some amazing pianist – I’m not, and in point of fact, getting better at it is somewhat difficult for me.  It’s more that I understand how the music works, and am understanding more and more about it as I learn more and more.  It’s amazing how easy it is to put a piece together when you know what you’re playing.

Did you know there are concert pianists out there who haven’t the slightest clue how the notes they’re playing fit into the music?  And maybe they’re better off that way, because they’re an artist, and that requires thinking.

But composers, improvisers, songwriters, that kind of thing – you have to know.  You have to think.  You have to understand.  And you have to know how the music, and your instrument, works.

That’s why my former piano teacher, to the best of my knowledge, has never composed a lick of music.

And maybe he should.

Seems to me that for a lot of performers, that’s a major gap.  And for the life of me, I don’t really understand how one can be happy spending one’s life perfecting the performance of music other people wrote.

But then what do I know?  I don’t have a fancy doctorate.

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