Borderless Creativity

How does one sustain creativity in art when the Muses themselves are known for their disloyalty and fickleness? In my case this involved acting against the advice of my teachers, and following my calling against all odds.
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It is undeniable that creativity is one of the most important aspects of any profession. For an artist being creative is a matter of life or death. If you are not creative, you can't be an artist. Music emerges from silence, poetry from a white page, painting from a blank canvas. The artist brings to life ideas, sounds, images, giving form to that which was formless before. Yet that silence, that blank page or canvas - it is not empty, it is full of infinite possibilities.

I remember the first time I performed a piano concerto with an orchestra. I was 8 years old and very excited. Standing backstage, I was waiting for the orchestra to finish tuning. The chaotic, wild roar of the symphony orchestra tuning felt miraculous to me; it was my blank canvas as it contained limitless possibilities of music-making.

But the world of infinite possibilities can be also frightening, confusing and intimidating. The blank page can glare at you and leave you incapacitated, immobile, shrinking with each passing minute. How can one deal then with limitless freedom when everything appears possible, yet full of invisible walls that stifle your imagination?

The craft of an artist (and here I mean any artistic expression, be it a musical composition, literature or visual arts), requires building forms, structures within which a work of art can operate, the frames of space and time which it can inhabit. It involves creating certain restrictions within which the work can be free to emerge, and against which it can rebel, in other words, creating frames which can be altered, but nevertheless allow for creative thought to flourish and realize itself.

So, how does one sustain creativity in art when the Muses themselves are known for their disloyalty and fickleness? In my case this involved acting against the advice of my teachers, and following my calling against all odds.

I began playing piano and writing music when I was 4 years old. Soon my teachers presented me with a Solomonic dilemma: "Do you want to be a composer or a concert pianist?" I was told that in our age of specialization one cannot be both a virtuoso performer and a serious composer so I had better choose soon and focus." When I was 12, I wrote my first opera, which was staged and toured in Russia. When I mentioned this opera to my piano professor, who was a wonderful teacher by the way, he said rather sternly: "I don't want to hear anything about it. I don't care what you do in your spare time as long as long as it doesn't take away from piano practice."

Perhaps as a reaction to this, I started writing poetry and prose. Soon enough, my publishers informed me that I can't be publishing both poetry and fiction, that doing so would only confuse the readers and I would not be taken seriously. At the Juilliard School in New York, the pressures to choose only grew. Even today, after countless performances worldwide and with more than 100 compositions published, some of my well-wishers are still concerned that I may be spreading myself too thin. My response to that? I started creating visual art. As always -- I could not stay just with the paintings. Quickly I added mixed media, photography and sculpture.

It's not that I have not tried to limit myself to one form. And heaven knows, even one career in music is hard enough. But every time I tried to do so, the weight of a blank page became unbearable and I would feel depressed and accomplish less than when I allowed myself to fly freely with the child-like approach that everything is possible. My friends think that I am a workaholic, but I am not. I am a chronic procrastinator, always guilty of not doing something else. Yet somehow everything gets done with illusory effortlessness.

Experiencing art through its different forms helps to gain a fresh and unexpected perspective. Often we are unable to see what is right in front of us, but through the metaphor of art we recognize our own face. This is why a melody or a line in a book can move us to tears, as it becomes personal, and through sharing this experience we realize that we are not alone. Often enough, by immersing oneself in art, one may find solutions for seemingly unrelated problems.

And one more thought. There is no such thing as progress in art. Art does not follow the principles of Darwinism, at least not qualitatively. Picasso is not better than Rembrandt, Stravinsky is not better than Mozart, Pasternak is not better than Dante. Art changes and evolves so that the artist becomes an instrument and representative of his time. In one of his early interviews, Steve Jobs said that all his work will become obsolete by the time he is 50. Unlike art, technology becomes outdated almost overnight. Any scientific discovery, with time, will be found either obsolete or incomplete, whereas a work of art can remain relevant and whole throughout centuries.

In our fast-paced ever-changing world, art reminds us of our humanity, of that which is timeless and always relevant. Art communicates through the universal language of human emotions and thus, while representing its time, it is also capable of transcending it. Music of Mozart, words of Shakespeare, paintings of Da Vinci continue to inspire us, to move, to touch and to transport us beyond our daily routine; they are as powerful now as when they were created. Through these works we continue the dialogues between the centuries, as we individually attempt to answer some of the essential universal questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? Why is there so much suffering, cruelty and war? These are the unanswerable eternal questions that define our existence. In the cosmic frightening vastness of silence of these unanswered questions, and facing the perpetual terrors of history, it is Art and Culture that become the frames allowing us to justify our existence and creatively flourish in any field we choose. Our art and culture give meaning to our lives and become our legacy.

I know the price of Silence
When on the threshold of sound,
It congeals in the contour of emptiness
Blends with the beating heart.

The air is charged with fear
And opens into voiceless space.
Hypnotized by incorporeality,
The wind unfurls its wings in dance.

Silence parches the mouth
As I catch it on my lips,
Mesmerized by the muteness of sound,
The dreary whiteness of the page.

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