Before I committed to a full-time musical career, I had trained as an architect. I graduated from the highly competitive co-op program at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, and had begun a promising career before I realized that my heart and soul urged me to go in a different direction.
Today, though my work is in a recording studio rather than on drafting boards, I am deeply grateful for all I learned as an architect. It informs what I do as an artist—both practically, in terms of the sonic structures in my compositions or the costumes that I build for my shows, and philosophically, because it has taught me the three keys to artistic works that last. They are technology, creativity and culture.
Creativity, perhaps the best recognized of the three, has always run deeply within me. But I have learned through experience that raw, creative talent can only take an artist so far. We also need technical skill, the technology of our craft. In music, if we aspire to compose string arrangements that are woven together with rich and inspiring harmonies, it helps to know musical theory. To produce interesting urban or electronic dance music beats, we benefit by understanding at least the fundamentals of rhythmic structure and patterning. At a certain point we come to realize that clarity in technique supports our creative voice.
For example, I was strongly musical from an early age. In just a few short years of piano study, I was at the Royal Conservatory of Music ARCT performer and teacher level. But before I could move forward, I was told that I had to take a year to technically catch up with my musical talents and exclusively practice piano scales. The idea felt like death to my need to create. But I knew I needed to cross this threshold if I was going to be a professional musician. I now greatly appreciate the time I have spent doing scales and studying composition. They are like the structure of the mast from which my sails can catch the wind of creativity.
Here is another example. My creative spark and some skill allow me to design and build my elaborate and fantastical live show costumes—from a repurposed World War II flight suit that became the outfit for Natamba, a being of gold light, at the North Pole, to a prismatic dress featured in my “I Am Light” music video, created from pieces of iridescent mylar left over from a friend’s art project, to the angelic dress I have just finished building that gives the effect of standing in luminous clouds. I do this because I love it. I am also fully aware that if I wanted a full-time career in fashion, I would need to know even more about pattern making techniques, better understand the behaviour of fabrics, and be fully up to date on fashion history and trends.
While Pablo Picasso was hailed as the forefather of abstract art, he said, “There is no abstraction in art. You must start with something. Afterwards you can remove all traces of reality.” His abstractions, which seemed to transcend structure, actually relied deeply on his sophisticated understanding of form. He had fully mastered traditional techniques so that he could make informed choices about how to depart from them.
Several years ago, I worked as an illustrator and fine artist, commissioned to paint murals and illustrate published books. I had grown up with a fabulous art teacher: my father, a respected portraitist and fine artist. Though I had good technique, I knew that I needed to study more on colour theory. So I chose to invest in cultural and technical education so I could better understand how to blend paint and colours, what paints need which media to dry quickly, stay wet longer or create a matte or shiny finish – and how my works contributed to an ongoing creative context.
Today as I write, compose and arrange music I feel so grateful for the foundation I have in many art forms, including musical theory. With the help of some technique, I am more able to sculpt the best sounds I can, so that I avoid conflicting frequencies and dissonant instrumentations. At the same time, I do not create in a vacuum. Since I mostly produce pop music, I am aware of current trends. I listen carefully to what in a pop song feels hooky, what uplifts me, what draws me in. As a modern musical artist, I am part of a bigger cultural conversation. As such, I am keen to know how today’s music evolves.
No matter what your creative medium may be, you come to realize that to create with innovation and push artistic boundaries, you must know what you are and are not putting in your works of art. Not only do you need to know what colours or notes you have decided to use in your expression, you also need to fully understand the palette that you have decided not to include. This is an aspect both of technology and of the cultural context in which you create.
Any artist can aspire to all three keys to lasting art: to be creative, to know our technology and to understand how our works fit within its cultural context. To me, this is part of the fun of being in a creative field. May we build our artistic lives upon these so that we may fully share our creative voices with the world and shine.
Parvati is an award-winning musician (I Am Light, Electro Yog, Yoga In The Nightclub), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (Aonani of Avalon, Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness) and founder of the not-for-profit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.