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									Artistic Research and the
Musician’s Vulnerability
                           Dr. Darla Crispin,
                           Senior Research Fellow, Orpheus Research Centre in Music
                           This article is drawn from The Artistic Turn, co-authored by Darla Crispin,
                           Kathleen Coessens and Anne Douglas, to be published by Leuven
                           University Press in September 2009.
      he place and importance given by a culture       or her art and the aspirations of the public.           little; what is beginning to change, however, is
T     to creative, original and aesthetic acts,
points to the great expectations such a culture
                                                           Artworks offer glimpses into the experience
                                                       of being human. They hold up a mirror to
                                                                                                               the questioning consciousness with which per-
                                                                                                               formers themselves enter into that experience.
has about its artists. An audience expects from        humanness – its good and its bad sides – and            Through this, the discipline of ‘research in-
art ‘that it be art’, that it should exceed in some    penetrate what is normally hidden behind the            and-through practice’, or artistic research, has
sense the everyday experience, the usual               reflective plate glass of human society. The artistic   been developing apace.
perceptions, and the limits of reality. Art has an     gesture opens an inner world of undreamed                    Any attempt at candid exploration of these
important place and function in society, offe-         dreams, of unrealised events, of unspoken               questions requires courage. It demands that we
ring a possible means of constructing identity,        sentences, of unimagined shapes, forms, content         question our attachment to what Theodor W.
of negotiating internal strivings and external         and colours, and of unprecedented connections.          Adorno called ‘phantasmagoria’, the ‘illusions’
prescriptions and of channelling frustration and           For performers involved in mainstream               associated with art production, and engage
rebellion. It is no accident that during times of      concert life in the tradition of Western Art            instead in a search for ‘truth content’, for the
economic hardship (as we are currently exper-          Music, the artistic act as presented in the public      imprint of the ‘real’ upon the materials of
iencing) attention turns to the arts as means of       sphere has remained remarkably unchanged                artworks. This aim may be laudable, but it also
remedy. The weight resting on the shoulders of         since its underlying paradigms became estab-            opens up for scrutiny the ideological battlefield
the artist is therefore high and the expectations      lished in the nineteenth century. Key to these          between music scholars and practitioners, one
can be extreme. The artist must, in some sense,        paradigms, and in contradistinction to earlier          of the sources of doubt and vulnerability. While
project the illusion of being a physical, intell-      concert- or opera-going traditions, is the              doubt may be an important driver for develop-
ectual, aesthetic and embodied hero. Schooled          notion that the artistic act is witnessed in more-      ing a sense of inquiry and recognising the open-
in virtuosity, catapulted into stardom, and            or-less silent, rapt attentiveness by an audience       ended nature of many questions, it can also
considered as a role model, he or she is not           that holds its emotional responses in check             have a devastating impact upon certain performers.
permitted to fail because failure might mean           until, following signals that the boundaries of         Nevertheless, this vulnerability is actually at the
forfeiting, in the eyes of the public, the right to    the ‘frame’ of performance have been exited,            core of many questions about music making, so
be an artist.                                          they can be released. The musician, whether             it is fitting that contemporary musical thinkers
    But who is this artist, this performer, this       solitary, performing in a small ensemble or con-        should ask us to open this hidden world.
maker, now admired, now criticised; sometimes          tributing to a larger one, proceeds onto a public
deceiving us through their artfulness, at others       platform of some kind, observed and heard by               Secret of interpretation: controlling
fulfilling all our hopes through their artistry? Is    an audience that sits – or stands (and this usually        oneself, yet not making music against
this artist to be regarded as superhuman, or rather    depending upon economic circumstances) –                   oneself. One’s own impulse must live on
as personifying ‘humanity’, both in its fragility      and attempts to communicate a ‘whole and                   even in its negation. This is precisely
and in its fleeting transcendence of this fragility    entire’ conception of the musical work.                    where the performer’s strength lies.
through individual acts of heroism? The answer             There are many ways that this can be done,             Theodor Adorno, Towards a Theory of
must surely be that the artist, as a human being,      and artists of a more experimental bent have               Musical Reproduction, 2006, p. 127.
reflects and illuminates humanity. Artists create      attempted to interrogate this ‘frame of the per-
in solitude as well as being sought out by a           formance’ experience through such processes as          Performer-researchers, and those who work
public, but are compelled to leave this realm of       enabling audience participation, speaking to            with them, need to develop a reasoned app-
anonymity if they are to make creative                 audiences, using the recording studio as a creat-       roach to the emotive aspects of this dilemma.
exchanges ‘in the world’. The artist is a human        ive space and making public the creative collab-        The synthesis involves an understanding of
being who has to strive to meet the demands of         orations between performer and composer. But            personal narratives, but we need to go beyond
his or her own aspirations, the aspirations of his     the basic paradigm of the ‘concert’ has changed         reading these within the carapace of the

M U S I C A L O P I N I O N S E P T E M B E R - O C TO B E R 2 0 0 9                                                                                          25
phantasmagorical. This is difficult, and can                       enormous amount of effort over a period of                                                                      materialized, but part of the experience of the
lead to a retreat into the mastery of surfaces.                    years; yet each field exacts from its participants                                                              performer, involving
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