Why art matters

I often wonder what would happen if our world experienced a paradigm shift in consciousness.

In the vast urban centre where I live, my morning commute swirls around in frenetic chaos: people and vehicles race left and right. Waves of crowds swell within and on top of each other, awash in noise and distraction. Patience runs thin. Individuals in acute crisis are as numerous as those who attempt to ignore them.  Interaction is minimal. Everywhere there is evidence of addiction: to caffeine, to tobacco, to screens…

Viewed through this lens of experience, we are utterly separate from each other.

It would be understandable if we became completely lost in this fog, dazzled by normalized notions of individual freedom and abundance. We feel relieved not to be the homeless person struggling with psychosis, as we rush past them. We feel comforted by the jolt of energy from our coffee, or by whatever entertainment absorbs us.  It would be understandable to hustle around in this headspace, trying very hard to get ahead in our lives, or minimally to not be left behind.  But what lies underneath this disassociated state?  To my eyes, it is an incalculable suffering that stems from the illusion of our isolation from each other, and our deep yearning for something more.

Art, to me, is not entertainment.  Art is what transforms our headspace from one of disassociation into one of transcendence.

Transcendence may mean different things to different people, but to me it is the experiencing of a unique perspective of awareness, whereby the focus on the individuated self and its experience of physical existence temporarily recedes in importance – perhaps only fleetingly – and can be perceived as somehow incomplete.

In the embrace of art, our existence feels broader and more beautiful than the very imperfect-feeling, tangible reality of our lives.  In the experience of a piece of art we love, in whatever form we love it, something somewhere deep within us finds the strength to glimpse a wider field of vision, one in which our inevitable painful experiences as human beings can also be viewed as experiences all human beings share.  Our suffering emerges as but one part of a larger context of existence that also includes true joy, true love, and true liberation.

Through the lens of art, we experience the clarity and reality of our connectedness.

Transcendence cannot be monetized. It cannot be trademarked and branded. It cannot be commercialized.  It is much easier to feel, than it is to see or to understand.  Above all, it is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Music is the art form to which I have dedicated my life’s work. Its radiance has spoken deeply to me since my earliest years, even as I have also struggled and journeyed to make sense of its place. This website is a reflection of the current state of this journey, one I am deeply fortunate to make in the company of extraordinary artists at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, as a member of their professoriate.  Please click on the links above to learn more.




Photo credits: Helen Tansey (Portrait); Instrumental Society of Calgary (B&W)