Some time ago I discussed with a musician friend about the volatility of music, that, unless one records it, it is not preserved. Indeed, if, if we disregard recording (which is a quite recent invention), music is to its nature momentaneous, it exists only in the moment. If you pluck a string of a guitar, the action is dead when the tone has faded. If you perform a piece, it exists only during the performance, and each performance is slightly different from any other performance, so it is unique and can never be heard in exactly the same way again.
Recording changed that. It is as revolutionary for musicianship as the invention of printing was for literature, perhaps even more. Suddenly the art of a musician could be preserved and listened to any number of times. Previously only compositions could be preserved, but they are dead notations as long as no one plays them, musicianship remained a momentaneous art until the invention of recording techniques. This could sometimes be felt as a limitation for the musician whose work in a sense is lost the moment he has done it. Once the vibrations causing the sound fade away, they don't physically exist any longer.
Literature has a physical presence in the text. Still this is a very unreal art. If no one knows the language any longer, a book is just a pile of paper (or clay tablets, or digital files, or whatever material is used to preserve text) without any meaning. The book, or the text, has a physical presence, but the meaning is an intellectual construct in the mind of writer and reader. In that sense also literature is momentaneous. The book exists, but is just a pile of paper; the meaning comes alive only when someone is reading it and that happens in the mind of the reader. However, it is not momentaneous in the same sense as musicianship (but not composition), because the writer's work remains. Also thousands of years after his death, people can read it (if the language is not forgotten). Contrary to the momentaneous musicianship, his art has permanency.
If we look at theatre, however, for a long time the art of actors and actresses was as momentaneous as that of musicians. Recording techniques, not least film, has radically changed that during the last century or so.
Pictorial art (drawing, painting, sculpture, etc.) has always been different. The works have physical existence in a very real sense, It is inherent in their very nature to be recorded – recording is consequence of the process of creating them. It is impossible to paint a picture without having it recorded, then there would be no picture. Even if sometimes there is a meaning that requires intellectual processing, the colours and shapes of a painting are always there once the artist has finished the work. With music it shares “realness”; it is sensually present even without intellectual processing, while literature consists entirely of intellectual processing. However, it differs from music in the aspect of permanency. There is nothing momentaneous in a painting or a sculpture; once it is created, it is there. Its durability is only limited by the durability of the materials used to create it.
As I am or have been practising all the arts mentioned (except acting) and many others, many times throughout my life I reflected on questions like these. When I was young, the momentaneous sometimes felt too unreal, as if a work was wasted if it did not give a lasting physical result.
Later I changed that standpoint. Today I see value also in the momentaneous. Indeed, the general obsession of recording and preserving everything, as well as copying techniques (affecting most arts), have made me appreciate the unique and the momentaneous – that which cannot be preserved or copied. Everything doesn't have to be preserved to be of value. Some works of art may (perhaps should) be momentaneous, as a flash of thunder over the sky a dark night, and then not exist any longer. Even if the only one perceiving it would be myself.
That also applies to life itself. Let's take one example: the obsession of taking photos. Is it meaningful to preserve every moment of a life and what does it do to your appreciation of life? It moves interest away from life and into an endless world of frozen persons and moments, a world of static death. As if nothing really existed until recorded and shared with others. That is comparable to a bureaucratic system where public records have precedence over reality.
I don't say that nothing should be preserved, I am taking photos myself, but not as an obsession to record everything. And for the really great moments, I would never give attention to taking photos. It would just destroy the atmosphere and negatively affect the experience.
A photo can be a support for memory when trying to imagine a person, place or moment, but it is not quite as efficient as most people tend to believe. If you consider watching old photos, do they really recall to your memory the feeling of a person or situation? Or is it a relatively boring series of frozen people and moments that don't touch you deeply at all? Besides, what do you remember? After seeing it a few times, you are remembering the photo rather than the moment, place, or person it depicts. Then it doesn't support memory at all, it distorts it; in your memory the record replaces reality.
Before recording everything indiscriminately, consider whether a great moment, or your memory of a loved person, might even be destroyed, or at least belittled, by a photo.
It's the same with people who have photos of family members displayed everywhere in their home, every member in every age and situation. To me that is a macabre menagerie of dead moments. I don't want this on display around me. I, too, have family photos, but I don't have them displayed. When I want to look at them, I can do that, after that I can put them away again. Having flat, static, frozen pictures of them, doesn't give me the feeling of having this people around me anyway. I also consider such pictures very private, I don't want every visitor to see them. But most of all, my memory of these individuals are more alive than the photos. I don't want the full spectrum of my memory to be reduced by permanent exposure to the photos.
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