Speaking of exploration and asking questions, I’ve been recently considering how this quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty relates to the process of making art in general and music in particular:
We just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put. ( §341)
Along these lines, it might help to consider: What are the questions I am asking when I am making music? That is to say, what am I bringing to the listener’s attention in my music? What are some other questions I might explore? In the questions I’ve been asking, what are the assumptions I’ve built into my music? How might these assumptions be uncovered, possibly by turning them into new questions that will be hinged on other assumptions that I can then later explore (and so on and so forth)?
As I understand it, Wittgenstein wanted to fix a lot of philosophical practices that were arguably based on a bunch of very bad assumptions, mostly about language. Among other things, applying the lessons of Wittgenstein’s thinking about language and philosophy to the process of making music interests me because it makes me wonder about the difference between what we are doing when we are making music and what we are doing when we are not making music (e.g., just “living our lives”). Perhaps there is no difference. Or perhaps our assumptions that create this difference have some issues that need to be uncovered (here, I’m especially thinking about John Cage’s work). Or perhaps there is a fundamental difference nearly as fundamental and immutable as logic itself. Perhaps this difference relates to art’s ability to uncover assumptions that we normally take for granted, assumptions that prevent us from seeing the world more truthfully.
Coming back to the question of innocence and experience (or the experience of innocence?), I am reminded of Sergei Diaghilev’s challenge to Jean Cocteau: Etonne-moi! (“Astonish me!”). As a child of a developmental pediatrician, I can say with very little authority (but a good amount of imagination) that children experience the world with innocence because, aside from all the tremendous amount of stuff they got from nature, innocence is what they got. What children express of their experience is frequently expressed with a great deal of astonishment. A child’s astonishment about their world and their ability to express their astonishment so beautifully is this thing that artists seem to value so greatly. However, I feel compelled to remind us about the things children do not express for whatever reasons, the things that remain secret for better or (more often than not) for worse. When thinking about childhood, I strongly believe we must always remember that, in addition to being beautiful and amazing, being a child can also be full of really, really fucking scary experiences, experiences that some of us have not and maybe will not ever recover from fully.
Coming back to the topic at hand, I would like to suggest that the great value of art, of art that astonishes in particular, does not arise simply and solely from the expression of something new and unique, created from a standpoint of innocence. Instead, or in addition, I imagine it comes from the expression of something deeply truthful, truthful not in some abstract way of thinking but in some deeper, more worldly, concretely rooted, entangled and messy way of being, of consideration, of care, and of love.