There are two kinds of artists in the world: the machines and the rivers; the technically perfect and the free. The machines are masters of precision, each and every note is clear and faultless. Accuracy is a standard and anything that is even the slightest bit less than perfect is failure. Despite all that is in the machine’s perfection, there is something lacking, something intangible that keeps the audience from bursting with joy or being moved to tears. This is where the river excels. The river can gently ease through a landscape, cleansing all who bathe in its waters of the dirt and wear that everyday life has left upon them. Or it can tear through the hillsides, sweeping away all that is in its path and leaving those who have been swept up in its swells completely stripped down of all they once possessed and utterly in awe of the forces that have taken them. It is the rivers that have the power and command over their audiences, who can draw them in and make them feel. One can sit there and appreciate perfection, consciously notice how every note is the definition of accuracy and fits precisely together, or you can be moved by the music without deliberately thinking a single thought. Whether an artist is a machine or river is what can elevate them from being good to one of the greats.
Between the machines and the rivers, there is a threshold to cross that allows a person to transcend from being a master of a song to truly being the song. When there is something that a person wants to learn, the first step is, as always practice. Yes, the whole “practice makes perfect” is one of the most redundant cliches of the modern age but the reason that is so is because it’s true. Through repetition and focus, one can master anything. That is, anything but emotion. One becomes a master of a craft when every single detail is known, every technique is perfection, and each and every action is executed with the uncanny precision of a machine. When you are focused on perfection, all of your energy is channelled into the pursuit of this seemingly insurmountable goal.
Conversely, a river does not stifle the energy but releases it in a flow of emotion. When you are not focusing solely on the pursuit of perfection, all of your thoughts are only of the sound that is surrounding you. All feeling in your body is the vibration coursing through you from your instrument. Being a river is about the experience, not the goal. The way that riding the river feel is at least as valuable as wherever it is that you dock your boat.
Perfection and emotion can coexist. Without emotion, art has no meaning. Likewise, without structure a piece has no direction or purpose. What makes an artist special is that their goal is not to be perfect but to enjoy their craft, whether it’s music, painting, writing, dance, or any other form of self expression. If your craft touches you, then maybe it has the ability to touch others as well.