Integrity and Persona
In Art, contrary to a strict Moral Code, Integrity is a rather fluid concept. Personal artistic truth is transcendental and ever-transformational. Persona, if it ever exists as a fixed entity, is a temporary stop on a journey. The artist that lets himself be defined by the image of his past achievements ceases to grow and gradually withers. He becomes a caricature of himself.
Integrity in Art is Zen itself – it means being true to what you believe now, even if tomorrow you believe something else. Others define Integrity for an interpreter as faithfulness to the written score. This is a valid approach to interpretation, and one that has born much fruit, but it would never have born the fruit of the Golden Age of Pianism.
Music Criticism as an Art-form has always had Integrity. It’s often difficult to distinguish one critic from another because they’re necessarily products of their generation. I often disagree with a critic, but I rarely doubt his Integrity.
If you were to treat Criticism in a Hegelian light, as a spirit or entity, even as a human being, he might be found devoid of Integrity for having changed face so many times over the centuries. But can you blame him for always being true to himself?
This is the very nature of Artistic integrity. Have the courage to contradict yourself! Have the courage to shock your admirers with a new opinion or style. Honesty and openness harkens growth.
Your vision will become clear when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams.
Who looks inside awakens.
~ Carl Jung
Whereas artistic preferences in Music Criticism change notably over decades, personal artistic preferences generally change much more quickly. Sometimes artists, even great composers, have their personas identified early on by themselves or the establishment and find it difficult to break away from the mold. Success and power becomes addictive and they lose contact with personal truth.
The modern equivalent of persona is essentially image. How are you packaging yourself? How are you selling yourself? Image only has artistic value if it’s true. And it can only be true if you don’t create it – it comes of its own. That’s the Zen nature of true image, true persona. Let your persona represent truth of expression; then you need no longer concern yourself with it – just play!
The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.
An interpreter should not only be open to change but should seek it out daily. Challenge yourself to understand what you dislike and learn to love it. Learn to see in every interpreter what other people see in them, even if he’s not your cup of tea. Don’t shun composers or styles because you don’t feel at ease with them. Pursue and persist until you have a change of heart. Know yourself, yes, but constantly challenge yourself to become larger more all-encompassing than you are.
Once as a young teenager, I told my teacher that I didn’t feel like going to an Early Music concert that evening because I wasn’t particularly fond of it. She half-smiled, replying,
Don’t presume to know at your age what you like and don’t like. Go to the concert!
May that reprimand be directed to all of us, at any age.
The greatest of all composers, Beethoven, was in constant transformation. He always knew what he liked, but what he liked was always changing. Every work grew out of the last and showed something decidedly new and original. He concerned himself not with the Establishment, with the critics, with being understood by his generation. He simply wrote as his Integrity demanded.
This is by no means true of all the great composers or interpreters. It’s much more common for an artist to find himself and settle in comfortably.
Beware of comfort! Don’t let yourself become static, irrelevant and false! Simply play with fearless Integrity; the audience always feels whether you’re being honest or not.