I think we hope to do more than ‘write what we know;’ I think we hope to write what we can imagine as well. Literature is about the exercise of the empathetic imagination. I’m always interested in stretching that capacity, and engaging the world and enlarging my own sense of experience. So I’m not only trying to reflect my inner turmoil, but I’m also looking to teach myself about the world and teach the reader as I do it.
-Writer Jim Shepard
The subject matter of art can be anything that the artist chooses; the content, however, will always and only be who the artist has made him or herself into.
-Artist John Frame
The repertoire that attracts me most tends to be, I admit, weighty. A sense of gravitas pervades my favorite texts; I like poetry that pulls one down into oneself, that invites one to confront the ultimate implications of our unique “awareness of being alive.”
I’d like to think that, faced with an eclectic mixture of clear-eyed realism, metaphor, myth and magic, we’re each trying in our own way to tie everything together through an authentic empathy with and compassion for the protagonists in each text/music-world.
It’s this empathetic imagination that is the crux of the two quotes above–one from a writer, one from a mixed-media artist–and is the ultimate goal of what we, as singers, hope to achieve as well. If we dare to ask, as John Frame puts it, “the Old Questions: Where did I come from? What am I to do while I’m here? What–if anything–happens when I’m gone?”, we bind ourselves together with everyone before us who has asked, and everyone after us who will ask, these same questions. By starting with these apparently selfish questions, we quickly find a way out of ourselves, toward a more shared empathetic imagination. We find the world becomes a bit smaller, and we become a bit more expansive.
And that, I think, might be the whole point of being an Artist.
We have much to learn as musicians from hearing the thoughts of these other artistic disciplines; I encourage you to read an interview with Mr. Shepard here, and check out Mr. Frame’s work here. But perhaps you should start with this short documentary by Johnny Coffeen.