When I was sixteen, I brought home a vinyl copy of the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album by Simon and Garfunkel from the local library. I learned several songs from it, including April Come She Will, The Boxer, and Feeling Groovy.
Each of those songs were built on standard chord progressions, but they were also full of little surprises and fun riffs.
I would sit by the record player with my guitar, playing a song over and over, listening for each nuance. Every few seconds, I would move the needle to get back to the beginning of the part I was working to learn.
Sometimes I was obsessed with an entire song. Other times, I would just learn a small piece that grabbed my fancy.
There are plenty of guitar fake books that oversimplify popular music, taking this or that artfully conceived song and flattening it out into something with a similar structure but completely lacking the flair and soul that made the original so special.
The fake book version might be easy to play, but it never gives you quite the same feeling as hearing the song the way it was meant to be heard.
Art is found in the extra touches.
It's in the little above-and-beyond details that make you stop and take note. When someone performs their craft flawlessly we appreciate their discipline.
But when they do a beautiful job and then, on top of that, add something extra special that didn't need to be there, that's when we say they've elevated their craft to an art form.
The work of the artist is all about finding the detail most people would pass over, holding it up and drawing attention to it. The extra touches call out to us as if to say, "Look at this! Isn't it remarkable?"
Some of the most emotive paintings might seemed flawed at first when compared to realism, but the very elements that seem out of place are what get us to take a closer look, to see what the painter wanted us to see.
The work of a craftsman points to skill and dedication.
The work of the artist points to something deeper.
Being an artist means that, no matter the level of proficiency you possess in your craft, you are always trying to connect and communicate. You do this by surprising and delighting people, by getting them to stop plodding through life for a moment, by giving them a reason to lift their gaze for a view of something more, something worthwhile. Something meaningful.
As with most things these days, art has been oversimplified. In our culture of number one hits, high end galleries and Hollywood, *successful* artists are rare and celebrated.Their work is purchased for outrageous amounts, sending out the implicit message: go big or go home.
The myth of the lottery winner lives in the hearts of creatives everywhere, as does the myth that genius and unparalleled ability are vital to success.
But the truth is much grander.
Anyone can be an artist.
All you need is a message and a medium.
Money doesn't have to be involved.
You don't need to be a household name.
You don't have to wait to be chosen.
You choose yourself.
Being a lifelong artist begins with simply creating art. Then creating more art. It's scary because what you create is personal and might be judged. But if what you want to show others is precious enough to you, it's worth the risk.
Start small. Start quietly. Skills are necessary. Practice with skill. Practice with excellence.
But practice curiosity as well. Practice caring and connecting. Because these are where the extra touches flow from.
And art is in the extra touches.
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