Inspiration…or Ignorance


As my dear old grandmother liked to say, “Life can be hard, but it’s a lot harder when you’re stupid.” Well, maybe it wasn’t my grandmother that said it, but someone did and it makes plenty of sense to me. My grandmother used to say a lot of things, some wiser than others, but she usually said those things in German unless she was particularly angry. Then she would speak in a polyglot of serbo-croation-hungarian-german and the best thing to do would be to seek cover until some of the words were again familiar enough to be recognizable as language. But, I digress.

Things can be much more difficult when stupidity is brought to the table. In my experience, this holds true in almost every endeavor. I describe stupidity as ignorance left unattended. Ignorance is innocent in and of itself. Ignorance is, in actual fact, required if learning is to be accomplished. Ignorance is the checkered tablecloth in the pizzeria of knowledge, for without ignorance, we would be ignorant of what toppings are missing from the pizza of our dreams.

In music as in all the arts, endeavors can be divided into two groups, those works which arise out of inspiration, and those which are achieved only after long and conscientious bouts of hand to hand combat with the tools of the trade.

When I was a child making sand castles on the beach, there were two methods of which I was aware to build a beautiful sandcastle. The “inspirational” method was to pick up a handful of very wet sand and let it drip through the fingers. The result would be controlled primarily by gravity as the wet sand would build up in blobs that loosely resembled turrets and towers. These castles were beautiful, graceful and fairy-like in appearance, and required no architectural premeditation. The world is full of natural wonders created by the elements over the millennia in just such a fashion. They are beautiful to look at and some believe that they are proof of the existence of a god who apparently sits in the heavens dropping handfuls of wet sand for the amazement of man. Those who believe this are not ignorant, they are stupid. There is ample information available to explain the formation of such “wonders”, but they choose to think that some supernatural power is hard at work whose only rewards are the oohing and aahing of the herd.

The second method of sandcastle construction involved a combination of thinking and physical manipulation of materials. There was planning to be done, foundations to be laid, stress loads to be adhered to, tools to be invented, and esthetics to be considered. Buckets and paper cups were filled with wet sand and used as molds for the structure. This would allow for smooth surfaces on which windows or the outline of masonry could be carved with a used popsicle stick or plastic spoon. Once the structure was stable, tunnels could be excavated and there could be banners waving over the ramparts. The finished castle represented thought, intent and premeditation. or, perhaps better said, Arts and Crafts.

I worked for a time with a songwriter who was once simply and innocently ignorant. He just didn’t know certain things. By things, I refer to facts like what to call certain notes and chords and how to reference rhythmic concepts. This songwriter was very creative however and there was no shortage of ideas flowing from his handful of wet sand. But the blobs would fall without structure or any sort of consistent motive. He would ask me what sort of blob would likely follow the last blob and I would try to make some sense of it all. During the process, I would try to influence his blob-dropping by calling attention to such things as the importance of remembering the esthetic quality or the emotional response to certain choices made in the structure, size or texture of the sand blobs, or chords. I would make attempts at generating in him a sense of intent. But try as I would, every chord was a newly discovered continent. He would ooh and aah and say, “Wow, that’s cool, what chord is that?” and I would bite my tongue to prevent myself from blurting that it was the same one we used at a point in the song eight seconds previous to the current sand blob.

I envied his ignorance to a point because his process, or lack of one, furnished a myriad of opportunities for amazement. He was experiencing newness at every turn. It was as if he were a passenger on an electric train set and everytime he rounded the Christmas tree he would see the fireplace as something new and awe-inspiring. But as time wore on, I realized that he was just lazy and would not avail himself of the information at his disposal which would allow him to predict and furnish his own ooh and aah moments.

Ignorance can be thought of as the starting blocks from which we launch our race toward knowledge, while inspiration is the kernel from which beautiful art can grow. But it must be watered and fed with the love of education and hard work. Dream your dreams, but work hard. Because when Mr. Ignorance falls in love with Miss Lazy, they are sure to birth a child known as Stupid. And little baby Stupid will have a hard life indeed.

One Response to “Inspiration…or Ignorance”

  • boulejazz

    The more you know; the more you know you don’t know. Ignorance is easy; it’s a drug and most Americans are addicted.

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