Art unfinished

Artist in progess

Sarah Goldwasser_online

There’s a lot that can be said about endings in music. For example, if a band is tight and completely in sync, the final notes of the piece they’re playing will be all the more awesome. On the other hand, a sloppy ending may be all an audience really remembers. I don’t want to leave these few inches of weekly time and space with a lukewarm goodbye, so here’s my attempt to end this column with all the precision and finality I can muster.                                         

The thing is, art doesn’t really have endings. There’s a quote that’s been attributed to a number of people, including W.H. Auden and Leonardo da Vinci, which reads: “Art is never finished; only abandoned.”

In this sense, a piece of art never really reaches a point where it’s perfect — there’s always something that can be added or subtracted, ever-evolving as a potentially constant work in progress. I can’t even imagine what perfection would look or sound like, especially in the always fluctuating and never objective art world. So at some point, an artist just has to shrug and go, “well, it’s good enough…time to take my hands off it.”

The same, I believe, can be said of people. Our experiences interacting with and creating art are never finished, only abandoned.

This column has been the highlight of my career as a writer for any publication so far, and that’s entirely because of the responses it has received.  As it turns out, a lot of UC Berkeley students relate to feeling like a work in progress. As artists, we’ve done a lot but still have quite a ways to go before feeling like we can own the title again. Sometimes it’s tempting for us to stop where we are and call it quits. Other times, we push ourselves ahead, because we know what we want to do. Someone I know approached me yesterday and said, “You’ll be happy to hear this, I think I’m going to start playing trumpet again.”

I’ve spent so much time missing my past, my former years of being involved with the arts, that it never even occurred to me this old part of me may have never left. But by writing about it every week, I came to realize how starting up again couldn’t be that hard. It doesn’t take a casting decision for a show to validate the fact that I like singing and therefore should sing more. It’s not rocket science.

Some of my favorite times from this semester were when a small group of friends and I got together for late nights jam sessions. We all come from musical backgrounds — some were once serious vocalists with professional training, while others had taken piano lessons and played clarinet in high school symphonic band. None of us was in any performing arts groups this year, and all had expressed how much we missed playing music.

With just our few voices, a piano and guitar, we’d burn through classic jam session songs — the Beatles, American folk, a top-40 pop song here and there.

Every time after we’d play, I’d walk back relishing the rawness of my fingertips. The pads below my nails would have completely split open, the ugly peeling a tell-tale sign of the time that had passed since I wore calluses from playing more often. But the day after we’d played, the little cuts below my nails always healed, having grown back a tiny bit firmer, a touch tougher and more experienced than before.

I stopped associating myself with the performing arts for a while, convincing myself with a number of reasons that it just wasn’t my time anymore. By writing about my relationship with the performing arts every week, I had the opportunity to reconsider. I’m excited to re-audition for shows next semester, learn other ways to dance, build deeper connections to my roots, find inspiration and even just play music with friends.

I’m lucky that being an artist is something that can’t be finished, only abandoned, because how sad would that be if there were really endings?

Sarah Goldwasser writes the Thursday column on performing arts. Contact her at [email protected].

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