Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Artists, support each other!

Being a creative artist can be a lonely profession. So many hours are spent in the studio, drawing, painting, practicing, training, listening, reflecting, harmonizing, de-harmonizing, agonizing, celebrating….so many hours are spent alone. This can be positive, but also debilitating. I beg artists of all generations to consider finding ways to support each other artistically and emotionally.  If we look back on some of the more seminal epoques of artistic innovation, we not only find solitary creative genius, but also camaraderie, constructive feedback, exchange of ideas, and cross-fertilization.

As quoted in previous blogs, I cited A. B. Yehoshua’s comment, that for Israeli artists it was nearly impossible to achieve artistic solitude, that they were constantly called to “solidarity”, and lived from “newscast to newscast.” I would now like to present an opposite tack: that it is equally difficult for artists to achieve the communal experience, precisely due to their constant struggle for solitude. I am not talking about living together in a kibbutz-like environment, but rather a community of idea sharing and support. This support might come in the form of creative feedback, discussion, idea sharing, collaborations, and even financial resources.  In his “hierarchy of needs” the late psychologist Abraham Maslow postulated that after physiological needs and safety, “love and belonging” are the most essential human needs required for survival (even before “self esteem”).

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Indeed, some of the best known cross-fertilization in the arts happened through sharing and the feeling of camaraderie. In the Dada Movement, the Futurists,  the Bauhaus Group, the Paris scene of the 1920s, and Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s/60s, artistic dialogue was bubbling. Artists cared what the “other” expressed and achieved.  The Judson Dance Theatre (NY) of the 1960s succeeded in creating some of the most far-reaching dance forms of their decade; people learned from each other through osmosis. There are countless historical examples of such sharing.

Throughout the years, I have also been blessed by such artistic exhange. When I made aliyah to Israel in 1980, a few of us started an artists’ cooperative called Pax; our idea was to create a sharing community and performing group weaving different art forms together. Our first piece, entitled Cages of Light, was performed in the old Jerusalem Tzava building, which was located off of King George Street in city center. The performance was well attended; the crowd was intimate and the atmosphere, intense. The group then consisted of names you may know: Esti Kenan Ofri (dancer, vocalist), Pamela Jones z”l (percussionist), Anthanasius Gadinitis (dancer), Ann Aranov (dancer), Hillel Kraus (dancer), Micha Morrison (writer), Uri Rubinstein (lighting designer) and yours truly (composer, performer). Perhaps the pinnacle of our work was participation in Seven Faces of Garden (1981), a huge work designed for the Billy Rose Art Garden and 75 performers.  Isamu Noguchi, the garden’s creator, was visiting and I was privileged to sit with him for nearly hour; we discussed the nature of improvisation and how the sounds would flow throughout the garden.  My challenge as composer was to create seven discreet sound stations each with accompanying choreography (Rena Shenfeld, Kibbutz Dance Company, Bat Sheva Dance Company, Pax and others) in which all the music sounded together as one unified whole, emanating from different points in the garden, something like a mobile by Alexander Calder.  The crowd journeyed throughout the garden seeing and hearing the work from different perspectives. This piece and all the activities of the early/mid-1980’s would not have been possible without the climate of artistic sharing.

Embed from Getty Images

Also in the 1980s, two groundbreaking series at the Israel Museum became fertile ground for idea sharing. The Israel Museum activities department, under the leadership of Steve Solomons, experimented with exciting cutting edge projects. The series “Cricket” showcased modern poetry in appealing and innovative staged shows; poets and other artists gathered together to watch, critique, argue and enjoy. Several of these showcases, such as Ed Codish’s reading of his “Voyage to Gaza,” were groundbreaking. The series “New Directions” combined the arts in different and new combinations. This series encouraged artistic collaboration as well as discussion and idea sharing. Though the performances were truly unique, what was going on “behind the scenes” was even more important for new Israeli performing arts, i.e. the ongoing debates between the artists about “where the arts were going.” People attended from all over the country and for a while Jerusalem of the 1980s was Israel’s center for arts collaboration.

What became my entrance into Israeli contemporary culture was made possible by this kind of cooperative, hard working group effort. At that time, we were in no need for extensive budgets. It was the love of the work that kept us going.

And so now, 38 years later, I still miss such contact from other artists; I miss learning, and though I enjoy my artistic solitude, I know that I would be richer having regular interactions and sharing time with my colleagues.  So consider this blog item a plea to creative artistsSeek out others, you don’t have to create in a vacuum. Seek out like-minded creators; create together; exchange ideas. Work in conditions of shared leadership. Work for the joy of creating. The reverberations from this kind of process will help enrich your horizons. Do not work simply at seeking fame. Be critical of your work, and your friends. Embrace creative input from others. Actually, try to thrive on it!

One of the reasons I made Alyiah thirty-eight years ago was a dream of an artistic Renaissance in Israel. For a while, we had it. The proper fertile vibes were in the air. Today we must take care that collaborative groups (new and veteran) are celebrated, embraced and supported. Audiences should be encouraged to “take a chance” on something new, and attend performances, showings, happenings, outdoor events in their communities.

I recently shared a one-on-one creative brainstorming session with poet, philosopher and friend Ed Codish (also mentioned above). I returned home vibrating; the encounter challenged me. We spoke about ancient poetry and its relevance to today’s cultural and political crisis. We also spoke honestly and revealed very personal feelings with each other. This all left me both exhilarated and exhausted because the dialogue drew me out of my comfort zone. And perhaps this is the key. If artists do not interact with other artists, they run the risk of staying in their comfort zone and returning to the same patterns, shapes, sounds as yesterday (and “yesteryear”!).  Original creation is born from the breaking of habits.  So is adventure.  So is love.

About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA) and recently a Mifhal HaPais prize to produce a new album “Sounds of Siday: Side B” (orchestra).. Horenstein's teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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