The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, April 03, 2009

Music and Story

ᅠ"I'm curious.

Do you believe that storytelling (more specifically, writing short stories and novels) can serve the same purpose as music? Or does it have a different purpose and, if so, what is that purpose?"

Yes and no. All art flows from the same place within us, and serves similar purposes in our culture. But each specific art form has its own character. Art is communication of the deep Self, and helps to knit us together as a species. I wouldn't say it is exclusive to humanity, because we'd have to have conversations with animals, asking them which of their actions and songs and structures stem from survival needs, and which ones express their essence for the sake of expression alone. I suspect that some animals do indeed simply express themselves for the sheer joy of it.

Self expression can take infinite forms: every breath can be a work of art, shared with the divine and a testament to the unity of mind, body, and universe. Every step. Every changing of a diaper, or throwing of a punch. The dissolution of the "I-Thou" relationship (a doorway to flow) is essential to the state of artistic or scientific creation.

The question with art is: what is being expressed? If Jason scrawls crayon on the walls, is it art? I would suspect so, remembering my own early attempts to share my joy with the world. The CRAFT that one acquires along the way is a separate issue. Craft reminds me of language: that unless you can speak someone's language, they may not be able to hear what you are saying, even if it makes sense in your language. Craft enables you, through repetition and/or modification of accepted forms, to communicate with others who have studied the same forms.

Storytelling. In my mind, there are only two things to write about:

1) What are human beings?

2) What is the world that they inhabit?

Question #1 gives you all characterization, as well as stories that turn on romance, anger, psychological pathology, politics, family dynamics...whatever. Question #2 gives you much of science fiction, historical fiction, adventure stories (man versus the elements) and so forth.

And at the core of the questions about human existence, or the existence of the world around them, is the question: What is true? Who am I?

Music addresses this without words, through a pure sense of aesthetic connection between one note or series of notes and another, one voice and another, one instrument and another, one art form and another (ballet, opera). Music sans cultural context would be a fascinating thing indeed, and there must be schools of musical psychology that ask how the raw notes affect raw consciousness, without reference to the history of an individual's exposure to previous forms. What fun! Acres of academic speculation.

The truth is that stories use patterns relating to human psychology and growth (characterization and epistomology) and the external world (plot and cosmology) to reveal truths about the way the writer sees existence. Does the world reward effort? Is love just another word for sex? Etc. etc.

And at the core of it, the quest to understand the world, and the human beings that inhabit it. Leading to understanding ourselves, leading to dissolution of "self," leading to moments in which we forget ourselves and immerse fully in the experience.

If we find the right things to connect to, they will guide us through the maze of life, through the physiologically and culturally programmed drives and needs, and to the core of existence. To me, all art aims at this, even if the artist is just trying to earn money, get laid, or share a "Hey Daddy! Look at what I can do!" moment.

In fact, that last might be the purest artistic expression of all.


Marty S said...

Storytelling is just like music. Some stories merely entertain us, but others like Aesop's fables or Orwell's "Animal Farm" educate us as well.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Would you care to take a crack at the altered state(s) that people seek through art?

Regardless of the quality of the art, there's something that people desperately want/need about getting away from their ordinary concerns.

Some guy said...

That last about showing Daddy what we can do reminds me of a (probably misquoted due to faulty memory) quote I ran across somewhere that resonated:
"Our greatest pleasure in life lies in showing each other our mud pies."

Some guy