The Intersection of Art and Intelligence

Classical vocal recitals are boring? Rock concerts are boring? Jazz standards are boring? Shakespeare, too?

Hmmmmmmm.

Anything can be boring if you don’t know how to appreciate it for what it is. Taste and intelligence are part of cultivating sophistication. When I was a teenager I attended my first vocal recital at Carnegie Hall. The artist was Birgit Nilson, about whom I knew next to nothing at that time. I will never forget that recital, as I had no idea people could sing like that. It opened up an entire world to me that took quite some time to deeply appreciate. I liken it to being a connoisseur of fine wine. It takes years to develop “a nose” but those who are wine experts can discern the grape, the flavors, and sometimes the winery and other details, just by tasting and smelling the wine. That is true of those who make perfume as well — they have very developed “noses” but for a different reason. Art experts can see small details that others might have overlooked allowing them to authenticate work. The knowledge to appreciate the small things is vital to such expertise. It is a marriage of art and intelligence.

Those who “follow” anything, be it a sport, cooking, dogs, art, dance, design, music, theater, culture or singing, gain more and more information about what to notice. To people who immerse themselves in the pursuit, there is never an opportunity to be bored about any aspect of that endeavor. I have always found that to be true about singing. Any form of singing, by any person in any style, is always interesting to me. I can’t imagine finding it boring in any form.

I find football incredibly boring but clearly there are millions of people who do not have such thoughts. I wouldn’t want to give football any of my limited free time nor do I pay much attention to it in any form, including the Super Bowl. I often do not know who is playing in it and have never seen it.

If, however, I had a reason to pay attention, (say, if I had married someone in that profession) I would have good reason to learn to appreciate football and to develop a fondness for it and maybe even become expert about the various players and teams and strategies and statistics of the sport and that would make it more and more interesting. My intellect would become engaged and any boredom I might have felt would simply melt away.

Some of my most sublime moments in life have been appreciating things and experiences that it has taken me a lifetime to know well. The subtleties of an art song recital in the voice of a master vocalist, the dynamics of a performance of a world-class actor in a Broadway musical, the high-flying improvisation of a jazz vocalist singing with extraordinary musicians — each in its own right an amazing moment, could not have happened if I had not had the interest and the intelligence to learn how to listen and to savor the art in front of me. Seeing “The Picasso Exhibit” at the Museum of Modern Art in the early 80s changed my life, and I knew little about Picasso’s life or work at that time. My knowledge of singing, however, was enough to inform my ability to recognize greatness in his work and that literally brought me to my knees with awe. Ditto with my Aunt Ann’s meatballs (back when I used to eat meat) which were in a class by themselves. You have to eat a lot of good Italian home cooking to know an Academy Award winning meatball when you taste one.

Boredom is intellectual laziness. It is the consequence of looking at something only on the surface or at a distance. Don’t be bored, be curious. Don’t be bored, be surprised. Don’t be bored, be discerning. You would be amazed at what you can find when you expect something to show up.

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