24. May 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: Read Online

Because, really, you must read the whole commencement speech John Adams gave at Julliard.

Here’s a snippet, to get your attention:

The arts, however, are difficult. They are mind-bendingly and refreshingly difficult. You can’t learn the role of Hamlet (no less write it), you can’t play the fugue in the Hammerklavier Sonata (no less compose it) and you can’t hope to move effortlessly through one of Twyla Tharp’s ballets without having submitting yourself to something that’s profoundly difficult, that demands sustained concentration and unyielding devotion. Artists are people who’ve learned how to surrender themselves to a higher purpose, to something better than their miserable little egos. They’ve been willing to put their self-esteem in a Cuisinart and let it be chopped and diced and crushed to a pulp. They are the ones who’ve learned to live with the brutal fact that God didn’t dole out talent in fair and equal portions and that the person sitting next to them may only need to practice only half as hard to win the concerto competition.

And the wonderful, astonishing truth is that the arts are utterly useless. You can’t eat music or poetry or dance. You can’t drive your car on a sonnet it or wear it on your back to shield you from the elements. This “uselessness” is why politicians and other painfully literal-minded people during times of budget crises (which is pretty much all the time now) can’t wait to single the arts out for elimination. For them artistic activity is strictly after-school business. They consider that what we do can’t honestly be compared to the real business of life, that art is entertainment and ultimately non-essential. They don’t realize that what we artists offer is one of the few things that make human life meaningful, that through our skill and our talent and through the way that we share our rich emotional lives we add color and texture and depth and complexity to their lives.

He speaks, too, about surprise. Recently I’d heard two composers’ works that were “sounds like” pieces. And I mean “sounds like really really old stuff”. I was puzzling over why, while they sounded somewhat well crafted, I was so put off by them. John Adams explained it to me (because I guess I’m just too stupid to explain it to myself!).

Here’s another bit I thought was excellent and we rarely actually come right out and say it:

They are the ones who’ve learned to live with the brutal fact that God didn’t dole out talent in fair and equal portions and that the person sitting next to them may only need to practice only half as hard to win the concerto competition.

Yep, yep, yep!

But really, the entire speech is mighty fine. Every artist should read it. Heck, everyone should read it!

(I must warn readers, though: he has black background, white type. I always have to hit control + option + command + 8 to reverse everything or my eyes simply go bonkers!)

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