Joe Bentley

Performer – Educator

The official website of Providence bassist Joseph Bentley

Art Is Not Important.

Hi everyone!

So as I was sitting in Coffee Exchange, one of Providence's many great coffee shops, contemplating the content of my very first (well, not counting the AOL homepage that 13-year old me had... eek.) blog post, I had a thought.

Presenting yourself to the public is hard.

So why do it?  Why present anything, really?  A website?  A blog?

A performance?

I mean, we can just get the same satisfaction playing our instruments in the basement, right?  Go get your day job, earn your cash, and then play when the night comes and it's time to wind down.  That's where music and art belong.  Leisure.  Pleasure.

The great cellist Anner Bylsma said something to a similar affect during a masterclass with bassist Edison Ruiz:

I hate all this talk about dumb musicologists who of course have studied it a little bit, or some dumb journalist that looks up in some book and then gives you a couple lines in that book and it’s all about famous and talents and rich and important – music is of course, never important. It’s made for pleasure.
— Anner Bylsma

Lest I be accused of taking Mr. Bylsma out of context, take a listen to him yourself.  He says it in this video:  The quote starts at 2:47.

When I first started teaching at the Portsmouth Abbey School, I posed that quote to my students as a challenge.  Some were dumbfounded, some nodded in agreement.  Some were left wondering why, on my first day of class, I would undermine myself by saying that what I do for a living is of no consequence and has no value.

I posed more challenges to them.  If you had to cut funding for a hospital or an orchestra, which would you choose to cut to save the other?  What do we produce that is of tangible use to others?  Why invest so much into something that is little more than a hobby?

Why the hell do we do this?

There was no one answer.  Some were forced to play an instrument by their parents.  Some were doing it to pad their college applications.  Some signed up so they didn't have to play a sport (a neat arrangement at the Abbey).  Some admitted that they love music and can't live without it.

So why go through all of this trouble?  You've got your reasons to do it, I prodded them.  But why deal with all of this?  All of this practicing and learning and printing sheet music and rehearsing and marking your parts and going to lessons and buying and maintaining instruments and auditioning and why, for the love of God, would a young person – or a person of any age for that matter – sit down after a long day with his clarinet and play scales, or go to the piano and set the metronome, or pick up the bass and figure out how to hold the damn thing?

Music – Art – is not important.  It is inevitable.  It is an unavoidable byproduct of human existence, one that is both a reflection and a result of our time on this earth, and the art we create is our own carbon footprint into the souls of whomever is listening.  Or watching.  Or reading.

It is the artist that understands beauty, and in beauty understands living – for what better way to figure out who you are than to study your reflections?  

So why share this with the world?  Why perform?

Well... have you ever discovered something so exciting that you couldn't wait to tell everyone?

Thanks for reading everyone.  Till next time.