The Vulnerability of Art

Last night, I finally got to enjoy one of my Christmas presents- tickets to see Art Garfunkel in concert.  I don’t remember a time that his voice wasn’t part of my musical pantheon.  That clear, soaring tenor…  ahhh…

The only other time I had heard him live was back in 2003(ish) in Tampa during the Simon & Garfunkel Old Friends tour.  They were in fine voice, and it was clear that they loved being in front of people making music together and as solo artists.

And artists they are.  I never felt that more keenly than last night.  This 72-year-old man stood in front of a venue that holds a tiny fraction of the crowd that gathered in Tampa a decade ago.  And he knew that his voice, the unmistakable contribution to the soundtrack of so many lives, would not do precisely what he wanted it to do.  The strength of his upper range, the power needed to articulate the emotional shifts in the lyrics, the control to hit the center of each note… these hallmarks of his voice were lost a few years ago to a paralyzed vocal chord.

Mr. Garfunkel has had to re-learn how to sing. And it has been an arduous process, one that continues even as he embarked on this tour.  He mentioned multiple times during the show that this was a very public way to work on his recovery.  He has mentioned in interviews with Rolling Stone and local news outlets how excited he is to be regaining his voice, how much progress he’s made.

But he also talks (and reinforced on stage) about how vulnerable he feels, stepping out on stage to share his gift. Not just the beautifully interpreted songs, but also his readings of free verse (on #10 envelopes!).  His art was intimate, allowing glimpses into his life as a musician, writer, performing partner and father.  And for a musician who seeks perfection to allow audiences into a theater while the instrument behaves unpredictably…  wow.

I am not a good enough singer or guitar player to expect anything near perfection, but when I offer my music in public, I do want to perform up to my potential.  When I offer my writing on my blog or at work, I want it to reflect my facility with words and grammar.  When I stand up to preach or teach, I want to do so in a way that is articulate and compelling, engaging and worthy of someone’s full attention.

Last night, watching Art offer up his art, I was reminded again that putting oneself out there – on stage, on a chancel, on canvas or in stone, on the page or even online – is an act of brazen vulnerability.  And I was grateful for the reminder that even the struggle to make good art is an act of faith.

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