Have you ever been happily reading when suddenly, a passage from the book pops out at you? I was doing my annual read-through of The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini last summer when the following passage from Inheritance (the fourth and final book in the series) jumped out at me:
“You must be capable with your weapon, but anyone with the time and the inclination can acquire technical proficiency. To achieve greatness, though, that requires artistry. That requires imagination and thoughtfulness, and it is those qualities that the best warriors share, even if, on the surface, they appear completely different.”
This is the part where the dragon Glaedr teaches Eragon, the protagonist, about the mental aspects of swordplay. However, the quote can apply to musicians, artists, and writers as well, if you think about it. ANYONE can learn to play an instrument proficiently…ANYONE can pick up a paintbrush and apply it to a canvas…ANYONE can sit down at a computer and type out a story. But it takes something more than technical proficiency to become a great pianist, artist, or writer.
I have seen this principle in my personal musical education. My junior-high piano teacher was AMAZING…I adored her, and I tried to imitate her style with every note I played. I learned much from her, and was devastated when I moved to another town two hours away. However, that has been the best thing to happen to me musically, for now that I was away from her teaching and in a small church that needed my skills, I was forced to teach myself and to stretch beyond what she taught me. I experimented with different styles of playing and blended them together until I reached my own, personal style.
Now, I would not consider myself a “great” pianist, by any means, but I feel like I have crossed the boundary of simple technical mastery. I didn’t become truly ‘fluent’ in piano until I began to use my imagination in my practice sessions. Although there are echoes of all my past teachers in my style, I am not a carbon copy of any of them.
Some musicians that I consider to be great are The Piano Guys. If you have never heard them, then I highly recommend you check out their channel on Youtube. As you can see from the video above, they put all of themselves into their music. They took an ordinary pop song and turned it into an extraordinary instrumental piece. So what separates TPG from any other pianist/cellist duo, or the average piano major at Juilliard from a professional classical pianist like Arthur Rubenstein? What’s the difference between the struggling artist next door and Vincent Van Gogh, or any of the thousands of writers working on an epic fantasy novel and J. R. R. Tolkien? Two things, I believe: imagination, and heart.
Anyone can achieve technical proficiency in any area of art. However, like Christopher Paolini said, achieving mastery requires something more, something from inside us. Just like I failed to achieve mastery of the piano until I placed my heart and mind (imagination) into it, so I will not be all that I can be as a writer until I do the same.
What are some ways that you incorporate part of yourself, your heart, into your art?