Are musicians artists?

Artist! What on earth does that word even mean anyway?

Are musicians artists?

When talking about what I did musically at school, the word “artist” never really came up. If anything I was a music “player”, a music “composer”, a music “performer”. People sometimes referred to me as a “flautist” when discussing me playing a specific instrument. Others referred to me as a “flutist” and these people are, of course, objectively wrong (us flautists get very defensive about that). I certainly never saw myself as an artist.

Through the course of doing my Arts Award I was faced with a number of challenges. From a performance aspect, I wanted to put on a concert where a group of my friends and I would perform a recital at a local concert venue. Arranging that concert unearthed a number of challenges. I hadn’t even begun to realise went on behind the scenes of putting on such an event: organising the venue, performers, tickets, and rehearsals; it made my email inbox an intimidating sight to behold. All the while I was attempting to learn my own pieces for the concert. I even had a crash course in baking and flower arranging from some family friends in my attempts to make the venue look nice and create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere (I can now, as a side note, make some mean pastries). 

Then there was the work I did with Jimmy Power to create an original composition. The idea was to unify the flute with electronic accompaniment. It involved pulling in aspects of jazz, folk, electronica, and beatboxing (yes, really). The piece was, I would like to think, a success. One defining moment in my musical life came when I performed the piece at a showcase directly before a rapper. When I went back after the show I’ll always remember him complimenting me and said that the performance was “really cool”; a concept that I had never thought would be attributed to myself nor my instrument. 

Beyond boosting my self esteem, as welcome as that was, there was something more to that comment that stuck with me; the idea that being put into the “classical” flautist box was not quite sufficient anymore. This is something that should have occurred to me years prior; I had been playing other instruments and in different genres for years, but it wasn’t until my collaboration with Jimmy did I realise I could go beyond that. I didn’t so much see myself as a flautist who was also a saxophonist, a classical musician who was also a jazz musician, so much as simply a musician. Working with Jimmy proved to me that I could draw upon all my knowledge and all my experiences to innovate, to create a composition that was really unique. 

Similarly when I was organising the concert and collaborating with other young musicians I learnt a little about what it was to lead a team, to organise rehearsals, to be flexible and change plans on the fly as needed, all of which were skills I would later apply when I became principal flute of the National Youth Wind Orchestra. Any orchestral member has to be good at collaborative work, but to be principal requires the ability to coordinate and respond to a team.

In many ways, then, my experience with Arts Award was somewhat twofold. In one respect, it helped me develop skills I already knew I had, and a few that I didn’t (flower-arranging not being the least of these!). However, it was the way that it made me reevaluate what I do and how I do it that really stuck with me. I helped me unite what I had previously seen as disparate and separate areas of my musical life into one cohesive whole, with each element informing the others. 

This is something I’m still trying to continue today at university. My plans for postgraduate study include research into the field of ludomusicology, analysing video game music by uniting it with its in-game contexts and seeing exactly how the various elements of a game interact and what an important role music has in that. If Arts Award taught me anything is that seeing any art form in isolation only limits the creative options available. Through collaboration between creative media, we can create works which have a greater value than the sum of their individual components. 

Gestalt artworks are everywhere: film, theatre, video games, mixed media installations. Standalone art specialising in only one medium is also fantastic (I love a symphony as much as the next classical music nerd), but seeing all the possibilities that combining arts allows for grants us an entirely new palette for expression and creativity. Music is, after all, equally an art as much as drama, and dance, and photography, and craft, and all other forms. Appreciating their ability to collaborate, when they all fit under the same umbrella of “art”, would seem natural. Even in one particular medium, such as music, it is possible to take inspiration from different styles and eras and philosophies within your own work, as I discovered when writing my own piece.

It is for this reason, then, that I would encourage anyone taking, or thinking of taking, their Arts Award to engage as much as possible with as much art, from as many different mediums, as you can. Talk to your friends in other specialities, collaborate with people, discuss how different artworks interact and develop. Grow your understanding of each others’ art through each other, and then apply what you learn to your own work. By doing that, I think we can all become better artists.

Article originally published in the Music Teacher 


Christopher Hill

Christopher Hill Contributor

I am a musician, musicologist, and music journalist. I did my BA in music at the University of Oxford and am currently doing a PhD in music performance practice at the University of Birmingham.

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  • Patrick Robinson

    On 10 June 2019, 11:17 Patrick Robinson commented:

    There`re no words that can prove my point. It`s better to watch and listen.
    For example

  • Ooka Radio

    On 21 February 2020, 09:40 Ooka Radio commented:

    Your thought on the musician as an artist is very clear
    Visit:- in store radio

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