The Vulnerable Artist (a review of “Songmaster” by Orson Scott Card)

A philosophy professor of mine started out his class on Aestheitcs, the study of beauty, by saying that Beauty will change the world. I am inclined to believe him. Beauty has a way of touching the soul in an unexplainable yet undeniably real way. Artists have a great responsibility, since their calling is to make Beauty known to those around them. That Aesthetics class completely changed what I wanted to do with my life. Or rather, what I wanted was always there in my mind, but taking this class convinced me that sadly longing to be an artists while I did something else wasn’t going to cut it. I had to be an artist.

As I’ve said before, one of my all-time favorite authors is Orson Scott Card. He has a singular understanding of the human soul, what we can endure and suffer and how that changes us, and how that change, however difficult or painful, can make us stronger and better people.

Ever since I read “Ender’s Game” in high school, I’ve been devouring all of Card’s books in the Ender universe. This summer I branched out and picked up “Songmaster.” It tells the story of a young boy named Ansset, a boy whose songs have the ability to deeply effect the listener, either to heal or destroy. Ansset becomes the personal Songbird of the Emperor, responsible for the well-being of the Emperor’s mind and soul. The fate of the galaxy depends on Ansset’s songs.

One beautiful moment that stood out to me:

“Ansset, what is your song?”

He looked at her blankly. Waited. Apparently he did not understand.

“Ansset, you keep singing our songs back to us. You keep taking what people feel and intensifying it and shattering us with it, but child, what song is yours?”

“All.”

“None. So far I have never heard you sing a song that I knew was only Ansset.”

When I read this, I put the book down. I couldn’t read anymore. I had to think about this. I am an artist. I want to change the world with the beauty that my artist’s mind can see. Anything I can do, a painting, a story, or a theatrical performance, is a Song that could change someone.

But what is my song?

It’s very important for an artist to be close to what they make. This is why we find it so hard to share our work. When we sell a piece of art, we are in essence selling a piece of our soul. In my Design for Theater class, my professor told us again and again, “Make it personal.” If we simply create something that means nothing to us, how can we expect it to mean anything to someone else?

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