Think about the number of photographs you took today with your mobile camera. Now think about all the pictures that passed in front of you on this same device. How many of these images could be considered a work of art, in the same way that we refer to the content produced by Cartier Bresson or Sebastião Salgado?
The expansion of tools, despite democratising access to content, was not responsible for the corresponding increase in talent. In other words: having a camera and taking lots of pictures does not automatically turn anyone into a professional photographer, let alone an artist.
Perhaps because being an artist is not about owning something material. It has much more to do with giving something, providing something that is not measurable: an emotion. And I am not talking about viral videos and memes. I am talking about the ability to deliberately and repeatedly cause a certain effect, a reaction, an emotion in your audience.
Recently (to my immense embarrassment) I became aware of the work of Les Luthiers, a sensational Argentinian group, active since 1967 (currently in their fifth formation), which combines music and refined, sometimes delirious humour. With austere lighting and costumes and very few scenic elements, the ensemble manages to build its own universe, which works even in the worn out video tapes images of their first recorded concerts, now available on the internet.
A unique aspect of Les Luthiers is the virtuosity of their members, not only in the execution of various instruments, but also in the handling of the so-called informal instruments, an idea of founder Gerardo Masana. Toilet lids, tubes, gas balloons, nearly everything becomes “a musical thing”, as the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Paschoal would say.
Early deceased, Masana did not get to witness the incredible success of the group he formed, although he is very present in each performance through his unusual inventions played to perfection. That is another thing about true artists. They are capable of provoking brand new emotions in their audience, despite of space and time.
Watching and listening to Les Luthiers’ musical-comic sketches is a lesson in stage posture, stage presence, dedication and genius, if that can be learned. Their performances turn the question “What is an artist?” into pure wonder: What great artists!
Be seeing you!