Whence virtuosity

Poet and novelist Ishmael Reed once said he read to an audience two poems _ one by a Nobel laureate and another by one of his students _ and asked for a show of hands to guess which was by whom.
Opinion was 50-50, which goes to show no one can tell on virtuosity.
After all, a toilet seat becomes art supreme if Duchamp puts it in the backdrop of a fancy museum.
Juxtaposing gems from the amateur with stuck up award-winners is a joy.
It challenges status quo definitions of what is and what isn’t _ the basic purpose of art to start with.
The unfortunate thing is: A toilet seat is just that _ a toilet seat, if there is no Duchamp and there is no museum.
That’s why it is so difficult and risky to test such waters in art.
But if and when you can pull it off, you will be able to create something unique, almost by definition, because most of what you see in art is about following what went before you and got the stamp of approval that it is indeed art and not just a toilet seat.
I have written before about the live music scene in Tokyo.
Watching the young musicians, who all have other jobs and boast absolutely no technical virtuosity as we know it in the West, made me wonder why that community existed and what it was about Japan that created that _ as well as what that meant as far as definitions of art.
I called the phenomenon the Tokyo Flower Children.
Virtuosity is obviously important in art.
But I also realized it’s not as important as one may think, especially in this day and age when razzle-dazzle can be packaged, commercialized and bought with money (relatively affordable) like a Cirque de Soleil show (which isn’t really art at all _ at least the old-style circus had the elephants and the clowns).
These peacefully wayward Japanese kids are products of an extremely rigid and conformist society that is rapidly unraveling and no longer promising success for all, even if you follow all the rules to the T and prove you will sacrifice individuality for the good of the team.
They are rejecting the package.
They have chosen to be artists.
And to me, there is no doubt they are really artists.
I must thank them for helping me realize that the most important thing about art is that sincerity.
And they certainly have that.
The choice.
The courage to choose.
The vision to see beyond what is being handed to them.
That is what is being sought among the audience at Tokyo live-houses, who are for the most part just their peers.
Art with a capital “A” is proving incapable of moving beyond the market and the galleries catering to the rich.
Art must reach and be about real people.
But whether this kind of art that throws virtuosity out the window can provide anything more than a psychologically therapeutic outlet for the participants remains to be seen.
Look at me! (for technique) surely isn’t enough.
But will anyone look if there is no virtuosity at all?
Can you prove value beyond delivering slices-of-life samplings of anthropological curiosity?
And isn’t thinking that you can mold virtuous art out of the everyday _ a la Duchamp _ the most arrogant approach to self-expression?
But I don’t think it’s dishonest or incorrect.
And arrogance, or at least confidence in what you believe, goes with the territory.