What is Proficiency?

If art is entirely subjective, what is the definition of being a skilled artist? Does it mean one can recreate the image they are picturing in their head accurately?

I was recently at a bar my cousin plays at, and all the audience was well over the age of fifty. But they still danced along with the music at exciting points. Watching them made me think, “Who is to say they are any worse at dancing than anyone else?” The fundamental element of dancing is expressing the music and emotions of the dancer in some manner. I think that since the music was generally “dad rock” and music of past generations, the method in which the music was expressed was actually perfect. There’s something unashamedly authentic about that kind of dancing. Sure, no move that these people performed was something I myself could not do, but I was not the one performing the dance, and even if I had performed the dances they were doing myself, I would not have been authentic about it. I am not the generation which grew up listening to the originals of the songs my cousin was covering. I could not have captured the emotions that any of those dancers captured. So even though I am more technically proficient at nearly any aspect of dance — physical fitness, balance, dance experience — I would not have danced as well to that music.

What is good music? Right now as I write I’m listening to a five-dollar solo blues album by some big guy wandering around downtown with missing or yellowed teeth and a basket of his CDs. He doesn’t keep a consistent beat on the drum. The lyrics to his songs don’t have a consistent rhyme or meter. But the music is enjoyable to listen to. They capture a music I cannot. It’s the music of someone who grew up with blues and grew up in a totally different culture than I did. No matter how great I got at the drums or harmonica or singing blues, I could not replicate this music as proficiently because I have not had the emotional experiences that this musician has had.

For these people, just because their performances are not by mainstream convention technically good, I would say their music involves an extreme proficiency. They practiced for their music in their past experiences. They’re performing based off of a real and authentic kind of raw emotion that no technical proficiency can replicate. Is that not too proficient, in its own form?



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