Many things that we discuss when we’re exploring songwriting have a lot to do with the craft and not so much about the art. Why is that? I suppose the easy answer would be that art is hard to define. In fact, it’s one of the biggest questions we ever asked ourselves. How many conversations in bars, cafés, and dormitories start with this question, “What is art?”
One dictionary definition is “creation of beautiful or significant things.” I do like that one. But there is a component or two left out of the definition: insight and empathy. Many of us who are in love with the art form of songwriting have found certain songwriters to have a certain kind of wisdom. Like great novelists, they have the ability to express the human condition and experience in effective and original ways that resonate with us. I think that’s why many fans of songwriters think they know them as people. The best songwriters seem to have the insight into the way we are internally and through their songs they empathize with us and we with them.
Sometimes it’s done with a turn of the phrase, sometimes it’s done with a particular melody or part of a melody that evokes a particularly strong mood, sometimes it taps into our subconscious and we’re not sure what the song’s about we just know that we’ve been ‘there’.
Can this be taught? I’m not so sure. I think it can be recognized, pondered and pursued. I think it’s important to strive for, to look into yourself, to find a commonality with your listener and to always try to find a humanistic way of expressing it.
What do you think?