“The true artist is not proud… Though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun.”
“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E. Cummings wrote in contemplating what it means to be an artist — a sentiment which intimates that the accumulation of learning, an inevitable byproduct of the process of growing up, takes us not closer to but further away from our creative source. Baudelaire captured this perfectly when he wrote: “Genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.” This, perhaps, is why some of humanity’s most fertile minds have traced the origin of their creative purpose in childhood moments of epiphany — Pablo Neruda in his anecdote of the hand through the fence, Patti Smith in her encounter with the the swan, and Albert Einstein in his formative memory of the compass.
In speaking with children, therefore, one might be able to get to the heart of art most simply and directly, unobstructed by the learned assumptions with which the act of living cloaks the act of creation.
That’s precisely what Ludwig van Beethoven (December 16, 1770–March 26, 1827) did in his response to a fan letter from a little girl.
In the summer of 1812, a young aspiring pianist named Emilie sent her hero a beautiful hand-embroidered pocketbook to express her admiration for his artistic genius. Touched by the gesture, 41-year-old Beethoven wrote…
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