The Pearl Factory
By DANIELLE KUHLMANN
The natural pearl is uncommon and special, a universal representation of beauty. To find a flawless pearl in nature is rare, and takes great effort to procure. One must dive into dark waters, find a rather unsightly shell, pry it open, and run the risk of finding nothing inside but a slimy snack. Having a pearl once signified a certain courage and skill, an acceptance and celebration of the risks involved in descending into the unknown without a guaranteed reward. There is a deeper value beyond the pearl’s shimmering surface—a story of curiosity, patience, vulnerability and achievement.
Support for the arts is in decline—we’ve all seen the latest headlines—but there are deeper issues at play besides contracts and ticket sales. We’ve forgotten to address some of the bigger questions about art in favor of the technical details of our artistic institutions. What is art’s potential? What is the value of attending a concert (and I don’t mean ticket prices)? The pearl, one of nature’s most interesting phenomena, unexpectedly illuminates some of the challenges and solutions of our predicament.
At some point, a theoretical “entrepreneur” decided that there was a niche market to tap into. Naturally, those who were unwilling or unable to procure pearls still wanted them. Certain business-minded individuals began supplying what they believed the people wanted, and, with the goal being to make a profit, these ambitious individuals decided to manufacture their own pearls. The marketing was very convincing: their pearls would always be flawless, perfectly spherical—every mechanized orb as lovely as the next. These pearls were consistent and the quality could be measured and guaranteed—and they were cheap. The manufacturers claimed to have improved upon the real thing.
Here, the industrial business standard splits from the realities of worth and value. The profit-driven mind assumes that the consumer wants only the object itself. But what draws people to a pearl isn’t only its luster and iridescent beauty. It is the deep understanding of its journey, and the journey of those possessing or sharing it. Much like classical music, or any art form that requires years of practice, patience, and individual creativity, it’s something that doesn’t come easily.
Of course, a pearl can be manufactured. These pearls looks real enough on the outside, even “better” by some objective standards, but lack the deeper value that is tied to the history of its discoverer/creator. When performing, we don’t want to ignore the people who await an artistic experience, unintentionally selling them a manufactured pearl—a “perfect” rendition: not a note out of place, a flawless sphere with no inconsistencies. What we’re discovering is that people don’t just want the exterior of the pearl—they want the entire experience. If they are unable to jump in, we must connect them to that deep dive into the abyss, into something unfamiliar and murky, to search for and possibly emerge with something beautiful, unique, and unexpected. This is the potential power of music.
Unfortunately, our industrialized arts education/conservatory system doesn’t seem to favor the “imperfections” (personality, individuality, eclecticism) that make someone, or something, special. Instead, it favors consistency, interchangeability, mechanization, and predictability. Generation by generation we lose the curiosity and ability to understand and appreciate something abstract, challenging, and intricate.
What we have to offer as polished, committed, and vulnerable artists is something truly special. We pull hair across strings and spit into tubes, and an audience feels our breath and bodies as we turn pieces of wood and metal into something that words can’t describe. These are our pearls. Every day we must strive to hone our skills, not in the pursuit of mastering an objective and technical craft, but to better express ourselves through our instruments and through music. In each performance we expose the deepest part of ourselves, diving into unknown waters in order to uncover that unique pearl—the one that only we could have found. Our duty, but also our greatest privilege, is to share that pearl. Audiences are in need of what an artistic experience can offer, but many cannot create it themselves. Art is not just entertainment, it’s a way of showing us how to be better people—how to stretch ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of and to create new things that are entirely human. Art is complex, inspiring, and sometimes you have to work for it. Art enriches the human experience, and it’s what we should strive every day for.
It’s scary to jump into murky waters, because you can’t predict what will happen or what you’re going to find. But if you never jump in, the only pearl you’re going to get and give is an empty imitation. In the end, even the slightest hope of discovering that genuine pearl is worth the jump.
Danielle Kuhlmann graduated from Juilliard with a bachelor’s in horn in 2007.Tags: industrialization of art, pearls