LivingArts: Minutiae of Mastery

The virtuosity of a Colin Stetson performance is airborne. It leaves in its wake a room electrified and muggy. As though through the course of the act he has filtered all the available air through his lungs then saxophone, converting it to Olympian opus. Sonic and visceral in equal measure, we breathe in Colin Stetson. We breathe out Colin Stetson. Oh, momentary demagogue of undeniable respiratory authority. The Great Hall and all its contents become Stetson’s tuning fork over the course of the hour during which his music carries unspoken inevitabilities that feel like a coming war or shift in season. Extra-linguistic truths.

Stetson is a master. His work speaks clearly to deep knowledge of an inert tool in relation to a living one: body to saxophone (for example). We can see not just the farthest reaches of such a partnership, but also the equally definitive limitations and demands. The work bears out a perfection not only of the actions proper, but of the sinews between.

I see this in his performance because trying toward it is familiar to me, this minutiae of mastery.

There is a shift that occurs once you have spent dedicated and prolonged time with a craft: once you understand the full spectrum of The Basics. To borrow from a flat earth paradigm, you sail towards the sunset and over the edge of the world (here meaning the documented step-by-steps of any given field), and what awaits you is not the thing you thought might feel like vast and comfortable competency. You face, in fact, a self directed future that is a panoply of deep dives made available by every single step of your process: many possible lifetimes of micro-perfecting and iterations.

You no longer simply make a cut. You instead see planes of choice and gradations of skill exercised in each act of cut-making.

You begin to read objects differently, infer meaning and discern significant variation and even personality from near-invisible subtleties previously unnoted.

You maybe even dream in whatever skill-language you practice. <hah hah>

Life lived in these specificities can conjure a shell of jargon and unintelligibility if words are all we have to show for it. But depths reveal themselves in many forms. Performances of others hard-won, perhaps life long attenuation and specificity are unfailingly unique and life-giving. This is an aperture through which to understand the heights of possibility embedded within a life-as-human. Still, you’re never not sharing intimacies with the wholly unromantic yet essential drudgery long-term creators all know lives, mafia-like, in the lower registers.

The grandest things, we learn, are born from infinities of painstakingly small and plain ones.