Sunday, March 7, 2010
The Role of Intention in Art
Just returned home from attending a concert by the great Leon Fleisher, who was asked about his fabulous capacity for playing with phrasing and pacing. Fleisher noted that "we (pianists) are responsible for every note." But that sometimes in the learning of the notes, the musician concentrates too heavily on mastery of just that, the notes. "Playing gets easier if we understand the intention behind it."
I think there's a lesson there. Behind every great work of art, there is intention. It's the purpose for the act that makes it valuable and meaningful.
As an example, the photo above is a piece of art by El Anatsui, an African artist. Looks like a piece of fabric, doesn't it? It's actually made of flattened bottle caps. Part of his vision is the erosion of African traditions by prevailing modern forces. Now, think about this a second...he's using trash as a metaphor for the breakdown of tradition. He's taking objects that could be/should be found in the garbage and reconfiguring them to stand as mute cries against the loss of tradition. When you understand a portion of his intention, his art becomes ever more meaningful, doesn't it?
I'm thinking about intention as an author. Before I sit down to write a book or a short story, I first spend time wondering, "What's my intent? What am I trying to show? What feelings am I trying to evoke? What message do I want my reader to take away?"
By starting with my intention, I avoid what Fleisher called "accident upon accident." My intention becomes the central thread that binds all my characters, plot and action together.
I'm curious, do you see the role of intention in art? If you are an author, do you start your work with an intention in mind?