S.E.M. Ensemble

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Original - Eclectic

What makes ultimately a piece of music successful are two things: The interest of musicians to perform it, and the interest of the public to listen to it.

In the early 1980s, at an opening of one of my exhibitions in New York, a woman came to me and asked me how come that I am exhibiting in New York so often, while her friend, the sculptor Jan Koblasa didn’t have yet a single show there. And I told her because I am a better artist!’

                                    Stanislav Kolíbal (Czech Artist)

                                    during a panel discussion at National Gallery Prague, 2014

A work of art that is original, does not imitate anything, and is based on a new concept has to overcome many challenges.

The work is difficult to judge and classify. At first, it is not clear if it’s worth anything and one isn’t sure where to place it. It is accompanied by a cautious approach and many doubts. The artist is on guard, looking for shortcomings and struggling to overcome them. It is as if working in a new field and that often means finding different ways to solve problems, some of them previously unknown. The certainties of the past are gone and often, one has just a vague idea about what is going on and where is it all leading to.

This gives a specific energy to the work, which in turn makes it exciting and interesting to pursue. The work becomes alive even if the clarity is obscured by the fogginess of contradictions that is often generated by the new. One can’t help questioning the whole thing.

All of this is part on the new, and when we encounter it, we can feel it there. The contradictions and questions makes the work alive and exciting, despite the usually unfavorable reaction by the wide public.

(R. Buckminster Fuller never read a prepared script when he gave public talks. He has been creating his speeches right on spot, spontaneously, in front of the public. Again and again, he would re-visit various issues, looking at them anew and fresh. The form of his thought-delivery was not perfect, but everyone who listened was drawn into it, participating on his intellectual investigative process. This was the magnet that attracted people to come to hear him speak. They followed every word he said, although Fuller usually talked for at least three hours without a break. How fascinating was to experience this “unpolished” address! This is very similar in the case of new works of art. The unpolished expression of the new draws one into it and makes one to participate intellectually and emotionally on the creative process)

An eclectic work does not concern itself with such issues. It doesn’t deal with the obstacles and difficulties of the new. An eclectic work is based on proven ideas and follows valid examples. It concentrates on “quality” i.e. how best to realize already that, which is familiar. The point here is to create something “good” something of “quality.”  The work lacks all the tensions and contradictions that are inherently part of the new and is devoid of all the insecurities and anxieties that are in the shadow of the new. An eclectic work dwells on virtuosity and academic recognition. At the beginning, it usually succeeds; the public feels at home with it. Comparisons, evaluations and references can be made and it fits into a known context.

In the long run however, such work ends on the sideline. A true piece of art (what Gertrude Stein calls master-piece) is not about “quality,” (who is to make such a judgment anyway?). It is about a struggle to arrive at something that is alive and authentic.

Sometime in the late 1980s, I spent an evening in Bochum, Germany, with the Czech sculptor Aleš Veslý. Aleš just finished installing a large-scale steel sculpture, commissioned by the City of Bochum for one of its public parks. I happened to be there because of a performance at the Museum Bochum. We talked about many things and when I mentioned the large sculpture by Richard Serra at the city center in the front of the railway station, Aleš stopped, looked at me and said: “but my sculptures are much better then Serra’s. I am doing work that is of much higher quality.” I did not react to this at all. Aleš was truly convinced that the “quality” of his work overshadows Serra’s. I am sure that in the Czech academic environment, he was not alone to think this way.

I recently came across a review of a concert at the Warsaw Autumn festival in 1964 that was published in Prague the following January in the magazine Tvář. Tvář was one of the (perhaps the only) independent cultural publications in the strictly controlled public live in Czechoslovakia at that time. The government allowed the magazine to be published only in the years 1964-65 and 1968-69.

...We heard already enough about the concert [by Musica viva pragensis] and the scandal that the composition by Petr Kotík caused [Music for 3 in Memoriam Jan Rychlík). Putting aside the inappropriate connection of the piece with the name Jan Rychlík (which is in the end a private matter of the author), and the bad quality of the music, we should state, from a perspective of looking back a few months, that there are many such unsuccessful pieces on our “Wednesday’s Club Evenings” [the author makes a reference to regular performances of new works by the Czechoslovak Composer’s Union]… However, because the audience is not whistling in protest, similar flops go by without notice (sometimes even without any notice from the press) and without a scandal. The Kotik / Musica viva pragensis case should be handled in a similar fashion…  I am convinced that no one will draw a conclusion from this example about a bad quality of Czech music.

As far as my string quartet performance [3rd String Quartet by Marek Kopelent performed at the Warsaw festival by the Novák Quartet], I am very happy that it had its world premiere in Warsaw and that the Warsaw audience accepted it so positively. For me, it was as if I received a dividend from all the past trips when, as student without official endorsement, in circle of friends, visited four times the Warsaw Autumn festival in the past. The welcoming reception by my Polish friends, as well as foreign specialists is also a very pleasant thing…

                                                                                                                                            Marek Kopelent, Tvář I/65


Max Brod writes in the editorial note to the publication of “The Castle” by Franz Kafka (1935 edition published by S.V.U Mánes in Czech translation by Pavel Eisner):

Franz Kafka never wanted to have any of his writings published. His major works were published only after his death. Much of his writings have been lost for us, as he himself burned the texts. Only a few titles and some details from it survived in my memory. The few writings of Kafka that came out during his lifetime were actually published, because I pressured my dear friend to make it available to the public. For example, his first published book, the „Betrachtung,“ was so short that the Leipzig publisher Rowohlt & Wolff [father of Christian Wolff], used an unusually large font to fill the few pages it had. The fact, that Kafka’s writings were something extraordinary was immediately recognized only by a few readers…

Max Brod (in his time well known and influential writer) was the closest personal and literary friend of Franz Kafka. Without Brod, the writings of Kafka would have been all but lost. Brod has been selflessly helping other friends as well, among them Franz Werfel and mainly Leoš Janáček, who without Brod might have had a very different career.

Why would Kafka want his writings to be destroyed? It was because of his doubts about the work and its validity. They were doubts of an artist that is creating something unprecedented and feels on occasion that the work is not worth presenting it to the public. Although Kafka is an isolated and extreme case, every true artist shares similar feelings at this or that moment.

In 1939, Gertrude Stein wrote a text about Picasso. She wrote eloquently about his struggle prior to 1910, during which time he arrived at cubism. She quotes Picasso as saying

“The one that creates a new work is forced to make it ugly. In the effort and struggle to create the intensity of the work, the result always produces a certain ugliness. But those who follow,” Picasso continues, “can make of it as something beautiful, because they know already what it is, the work already being invented; but the inventor, because he does not know what he is exactly doing, inevitably, the thing he makes must have its ugliness.”


                                                                             - Petr Kotik, March-November, 2014