Think about your life for a moment. How much of who you are now is different than who you were last year? Five or ten years ago? Each of us can name many things. New tastes in music and books, new favorite actors, perhaps even a different set of personal characteristics. Growing up helps us settle into ourselves, grow in patience, find our passions. How much more of yourself will you have forged in the next five, next ten years?
No person is ever “finished,” and musicians least of all. Just as their own projects are works in progress, they themselves gain experience and improve their talents. The Beatles would be remembered as just another bubblegum band of the Sixties if they had never matured. What made them pioneers of music wasn’t their ability to ride the trends of the times, but to set the trends, doing things people weren’t used to. The young Beatles would never in a million years have recorded something like “I Am The Walrus” if they, like the rest of us, hadn’t grown up.
Well, just like the saying goes, no man is an island. We all affect those around ourselves, and so everyone is connected to the world in some way. Art, pop culture, and even the intellectual atmosphere of a time period all work in the same way. This is why artists are said to push boundaries: they expand the balloon of the times, making more and more creativity acceptable by the quality of the work they produce. A pioneering artist is a genius, making others wonder why “nobody else thought of that before.”
This is how trends are born. It doesn’t happen because one or two people decided it, but because many people are attracted to a new idea. Everyone wants to put their own fingerprints on it, to make it theirs in some way. Artists may dream, create, and perform alone, but they are never truly separate from the times. All they can do is strive to be the ones to break the boundaries of their day and lead the way to the next creative stage.
New musicians are not necessarily more talented or more creative, nor even more educated, than those who came before. Modern artists merely have the benefit of those past artists’ work. Nobody really listens to old-time Negro spirituals anymore, but without them we would never have had the rock, blues, jazz, rap, or country genres as we know them. All art depends on the past for its context and its inspiration. And so time is art’s true canvas, and each artist adds his or her own marks to that endless white space.