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Artwork that features burning violins.

A Shocking Statement on Music Education

Most of us bemoan the state of music instruction at public schools and some of us are compelled to write a letter to the editor or speak at a school board meeting.


Arizona artist Julie Comnick shows her distaste another way. She burns musical instruments.


Her latest work, “Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra,” displayed at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum shows the destruction of 100 old violins that could no longer be played. She recorded their burning, which lasted from sunrise to sunset. Then, Comnick painted and drew their destruction and saved some of the burnt violins and showcased them together.


It certainly is a shocking piece of art from what we can see in the photographs. Despite the fact that we knew the violins were beyond repair, we could not help but cringe at their destruction and the story that each one had, of a child or adult devoting hours to playing it as perfectly as possible.


Comnick said her art is a statement against reduced funding for the arts in public school and a technology-infused culture where everything is on demand and lasts a second. With the current culture as a backdrop, how can children learn a skill that takes years to develop and requires quiet and prolonged practice?


Yet, we think the real story is in Comnick’s personal relationship with music.


In describing her latest artwork, Comnick writes: “As the only child of a piano teacher, I was instructed at an early age to choose an instrument and stick with it.  At age eight I selected the violin, and at eighteen I put it down.  The years between were fraught with accomplishment and ambivalence as I excelled at an instrument that in my adolescence I didn’t feel particularly passionate about.  To re-familiarize myself with the instrument after an eighteen-year hiatus, I resumed violin lessons and incorporated music practice into my studio practice.”


Call us crazy, but this art and Comnick’s backstory makes us feel hopeful. After so many years of leaving behind the violin and violently destroying it in her artwork, Comnick chose to resume instruction and performed music as part of her artwork. There is this unspoken strong connection that makes us feel good.


What do you think?


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