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Greatness - Then and Now

by Dede W Casad

posted in Arts and Entertainment

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Could it be I am the first person to express a thought about artists and musicians that many of us have had but never stated it publicly? Could it be that I am the first person who doesn't understand the inherent beauty in our art and music? Could it be that I am the first person, who will take the risk to ask: why do we not have artists and musicians like Michelangelo and Mozart or Da Vinci and Beethoven today?
When one inches shoulder to shoulder with others, along a gallery of exquisite art in a museum like the Uffizi in Florence to see the great works of art, the thought keeps coming and coming. Why don't we have great artist like these today?
We have better schools. We certainly have more sophisticated students, and more professional teachers. We have better facilities and more of them. As moderns, are we laying down on the job or have we redefined art to adapt to the stuff that is being splashed on canvas today?
When one pays a handsome fee to go to an opera in Vienna to hear one of Verdi's or Puccini's operas, we cannot help but ask, why don't we have great musicians like that in our culture today?
Perhaps, there is some mystery of God that the greats lived under in ancient times that doesn't hold true for today. It's a puzzle, for you can't equate the plastic glass buildings, the geometric art and the rock and roll music to the life-likeness of a David, or the harmony of Handel. Why the difference?
A hint of an answer came to me straight out of our tour guide book. If the writer was aware he was coming to my rescue he might have elaborate further. His intent, rather, was to merely describe the development of art in the time of Michelangelo. He said, "The paintings of the 15th century Florence trained in each other's workshops and watched each other's progress with jealous eyes, each sparking off the other's genius and contributing to a chain of innovative masterpieces which is one of the wonders of the Western civilization."
When my husband read this to me I asked what kind of explanation is that. He responded like a true Texan. He said, "In the 15th century art was the love of the people. In our day it is football."
There you have it. Spot on. While many of our would-be famous artist spent a lifetime waiting for their time to come, we pass out multimillion dollar sport contracts like bus tickets.
I contend, however, it is more than that. The dedication to art, music and literature is reserved for the serious-minded, but is taken less seriously by the populous who are willing to accept less than greatness.
Imagine students standing over Joyce Carol Oates shoulders watching her with eager eyes to learn how to negotiate a sentence and struggle for just the exact word. True, Oates teaches, but how many of her protégés become greater than she? Is the desire to pass on, through apprenticeship, the lessons we know and have proven worthy, or are we jealous of our status and position and feel threatened that someone will follow who might become a nova in the galaxy?
Michael Jackson amassed over 93 million dollars in one year with thousands upon thousands of people listening to his music. But will Jackson's portrait be the representative of our culture in the year 3000? Will his music survive as timeless and his bust sit handsomely on a pedestal in the modern equivalent of the Prado?
I have hope when I read, despite the trend of our times, articles on the front page of our newspapers that suggests not all is lost. Only a few years back there was an article about the construction of a new CIA building in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. In the contract were funds for beautification both externally and internally of some $450,000, I believe. The search was then on for the best qualified artist to do the job; landscape architect for the grounds and an artist for the murals inside. Finally, they settled on two young artists and the calls were made, congratulating them on being chosen.
The young man, who were chosen for the artistic work inside, was stunned over the proposal. He was a $25,000 a year artist, and it didn't take him but a nanosecond to compute what his take would be when they divided the $450,000 in half. He never dreamed his work would demand that kind of money. This was an opportunity to make himself both famous as well as immortal.
He turned it down.
That's right. He turned the opportunity down. Such arrogance inferred the press. Such a waste pleaded his wife. Who does he think he is to claim art more valuable than the coin of the realm?
Yet, he turned the offer down.
He said: "It's like, when I think CIA, I think guns. I hate guns. Whenever I see a gun, I freak out. I saw a robbery take place once in Chinatown. I was walking down the street, and these two guys ran out of a jeweler store, and I saw the gun close up. On TV, a gun is atmospheric and ethereal. But in reality they're huge, they're heavy, they're iron, they're black. And it was like-wow. When I think CIA, I think international trauma. And I think participating at the CIA would somehow imply my support for it. Context creates meaning. When you put art into a context like the CIA it's intended to make the CIA more human, more cultural. They just wanted me to brighten up their day as they go to and from meetings. I'm no radical lefty. I don't go out and protest. But I don't want to be a part of the CIA. I read. I hear. It's frightening. I don't want to go near the place.
But when you think CIA, you think authority. And an artist is generally someone who fights authority, who doesn't enjoy beau racy. So this will be a problem for them. Even with this kind of money, they're going to have problems getting someone to do what I was picked to do."
Two thoughts: I doubt the CIA had a problem finding another artist to do the job for $225,000? And what about his young man. The issue is not about the use or abuse of guns or the value and intention of the CIA. Nor is it about this young man's conscience.
It's about the integrity of time.
In the 15th, 16th and 17th century there were no radios or televisions. They never heard of a cell phone, an iPad or the Internet. Movies, with their vile stories and language to match, were not on their future drawing boards.
Within the integrity of time, we have substituted technological gadget pieces for masterpieces. As marvelous as these gadget are and as eager as we are to own them, they have, nonetheless, stolen the limelight from those who seek greatness. Today, we prefer quick and easy. We honor speed and innovation. We accept the near great rather than the truly great. With the integrity of time, we have substituted technological gadget pieces for masterpieces and mediocracy for greatness.
So is the question of where are the great artists and musicians today even relevant? Probably not. The true artist and musicians of the middle ages, whose work has survived for centuries, are dead and gone.
But that's okay.
We have a museum for Michael Jackson and a Football Hall of Fame.
About the Author: Please go to my website, and view my books. I am sure you will find something there that will tease your intellectual appetite.
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