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master violin and viola case maker


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What, exactly, is a work of Art?



Dear Musicians...

"Art" is probably one of the most abused terms in today's language. It seems to mean anything from someone's amateur hobby to the great works of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Stradivari; not to mention even industrially-produced goods. So what is art, exactly?

According to Wikipedia, "Art refers to a diverse range of human activities and artifacts, and may be used to cover all or any of the arts, including music, literature and other forms. It is most often used to refer specifically to the visual arts, including media such as painting, sculpture, and printmaking. [...] Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas. [...] An object may be characterized by the intentions, or lack thereof, of its creator, regardless of its apparent purpose. A cup, which ostensibly can be used as a container, may be considered art if intended solely as an ornament, while a painting may be deemed craft if mass-produced. Visual art is defined as the arrangement of colors, forms, or other elements "in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium" [...]

Clearly, the "usefulness" of an artistic object opens the debate to what's art and what isn't, and has made it necessary to further refine the concept introducing the definition of "fine" art, i.e. that branch of art where the final product is otherwise "useless", or anyway not serving any other purpose than being beautiful to look at (or to listen to).


USEFUL ART? I believe that there can be little doubt that this magnificent hand-built 1939 Bugatti Type 57SC, a one-off creation by coachbuilder Van Vooren, is a work of art, despite the fact that it is also an automobile for every intent and purpose. Not that I'd use it to drive to work in every day, of course... as much as I'd like to...


Although Wikipedia doesn't come straight out and say it, I believe that to qualify as art, a work requires also "creativity" and "uniqueness". Creativity - because the artist is expressing an original concept, one that he has conjured up from his own background, talent, and experience, and has been hitherto unexpressed; uniqueness - because a reproduction of an original creative work, even the most exacting, is and remains simply a copy.

It is generally accepted that Stradivari perfected the violin with his the famous G-pattern (an undated design, but which he used from 1710 until his death in 1737) and with which he created his greatest masterpieces. The originality of the design, when added to the style of his handwork and skill that is apparent in the smallest details, makes each subtly different Golden Period Stradivari a work of visual art (sculpture), while the object in itself has a different purpose altogether, like the above-mentioned cup, or the Bugatti in the photo. For this reason, those luthiers who today try to recapture with their own instruments the magic of, say, the 1715 ex-Joachim "Il Cremonese", will be at best highly distinguished craftsmen - but not artists. The artist among them will be the one who sets the new standard, designs and builds the equivalent of tomorrow's 1715 Strad.

Now, can a violin case also be a work of art? If it represents a personal expression of creativity and uniqueness which cannot be repeated, I believe so. In the violin case with artistic value, part of the value is in the inspirational, preliminary work: the original idea, followed by the the defining of the concept and finally it's design; the remaining part is represented by the skill in the usage of the medium (materials) to transform that inspiration into a concrete form. If the end result is something which  creates emotion in the mind of the beholder, stimulates reflection or even just aesthetic admiration, then yes, that violin case may be considered a work of art.

If any of you who have been so kind to have read this far would like to comment on my thoughts, feel free to contact me at info@musafia.com. I thank you for your attention.

Dimitri Musafia


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