Lots of artists, particularly musicians, focus heavily on becoming virtuoso performers. They practice diligently until they can perform amazing feats that leave audiences with their jaws on the floor. The problem is, although it’s entertaining at the time, the shelf life of such works of art is very short.
In the first place, even the most accomplished artist eventually loses some of their edge, as they age. They can no longer rely on technical flashiness, as they get older, because they simply can’t maintain the standard. In fact, the older artist tends to pay a physiological price for their amazing dexterity, because over the course of a career based on being astonishing for the audience, they pick up repetitive strain injuries of the most career-limiting kind.
Secondly, there is always a new kid that has practiced harder and can do more than the virtuoso can. Like a gunslinger, you’re only top dog until the next hot shot rides into town. If your art is based on being the best there is, the audience quickly loses interest when you are suddenly the second best there is.
The saddest part of artists that put all their eggs in the virtuosity basket is that once an audience gets past how amazing they are to watch, the art they leave behind, especially if it is a music recording, has very little of interest in it. A record that is all about musical pyrotechnics isn’t about anything, really. It’s only about that brief, surprising moment of amazement. Once you get over that, what else does the music say? Very little, usually.
I think the best artists are the ones that take time to compose their works, using their virtuosity to add spice and flavour, but for the art itself to be about something timeless. If you want to affect an audience long after you are gone, the work has to be able to engage with future audiences on a fundamentally human scale. By the time a future audience experiences your work, there may be many other more technically accomplished virtuosi who, while perhaps inspired by you, the original virtuoso, have eclipsed your technique and so now you seem less amazing, hence less entertaining, by comparison.
If, on the other hand, the work has something of substance to it, with universal emotional appeal, because it is about themes and concerns that never get old (love, for example, or peace) and you, the artist, have done a good job of making that the focus of your entertainment, rather than your virtuoso skills, then the art has a chance of having some lasting impact on future audiences. When the flash delivery is no longer a big deal to anybody, the art will still speak and resonate within the hearts and minds of people.
My advice to artists that get hung up on technique and who spend all their time honing their technical skills is to pay attention to how entertaining the art would be, if it lacked that virtuoso crutch. What would the art say, in the absence of flashiness? Would it still work, if rendered by somebody less adept and skilled? Make it memorable, sure, but make it fresh and engaging, even when the fireworks have been extinguished. Audiences need to want to experience the work of art again and again, rather than being blown away by it once and then bored to tears by it, on subsequent encounters.
Making entertaining art is far deeper than the blitzkrieg approach that many artists take in smothering their essential message with distracting and non-essential tricks and twirls. Strip away the bling and make sure there is something worth experiencing underneath.
Are you experienced?