Your art and its value (sanity and immortality for all)

Bosch found immortality if not sanity through his art.

I close every e-mail I send with the following quotation:

It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. -GK Chesterton, Heretics

I believe Chesterton here. I believe that each of us should produce his’er own art — be it the art of music, of dance, of gardening, of poetry, of blogging, of painting, of sculpting, of musical theatre, of cooking…

So many of us wish to be involved with or to produce something of lasting value in this world, do we not? In Letter 1.3, Pliny the Younger writes to Caninius Rufus:

Why don’t you — for it’s time — commit lowly and paltry cares to others, and plant your very self with your studies on that high and fertile retreat? This business ought to be your leisure; this work your quiet; in these your vigils, in this even your sleep should repose. Fashion and compose something that would be yours forever. For the rest of your affairs will come by lot after you to one and another master, but this will never cease to be yours if once you begin it. I know what spirit, what natural cleverness I encourage — you just shine forth so that you may be for yourself as great as you will seem to others if you are to yourself. (My trans.)

Pliny is here encouraging Caninius Rufus to engage in the leisure of scholarship, of writing books or analysing books or philosophising and all those things that are part of the leisure of a Roman aristocrat. This, says Pliny, is what will be a true legacy; all that other business, of home and commerce and government, will come into the hands of others.

As a PhD student and blogger, this is encouraging. What is it that lasts, what is a great endeavour? A business empire? A well-laid garden? The purchase, like Jay Gatsby, of an enormous house? All these can crumble and fall; all will be passed on to one and another when I die. But not my writing; not my art that keeps me sane.

Indeed, has not Pliny himself become immortal through his self-published, highly-stylised letters? Is not the temporal immortality of G K Chesterton found in his multitudinous writings — the essays, the poems, the novels, the books? Wagner, whose Das Rheingold I am listening to right now, is immortal through his music; Rodin through his sculpture; Michelangelo through the agony and the ecstasy of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

And Thucydides was not wrong when he wrote, ‘My history is an everlasting possession, not a prize composition which is heard and forgotten’ (History 1.22.4, trans. Jowett) — for people still read him today, and not just Classicists (we being a breed who do read some obscure texts).

When I think on this, on the quest to make art to keep sanity, to gain immortality, to survive in a dark world, I am pleased and encouraged by my friends who are doing just that. I have two friends, Ryan (plays with Doublechief) and Liam (solo awesomeness), who are taking the rock star route to immortality; my friend Mae makes glass jewellery (you can buy it here); my friends Andrée and Jennq are the artistic directors of Caithream Celtic Dance Fusion; Pip keeps up age-old traditions of art and beauty (visible here).

There are many other friends in the arts — my blogging siblings, one of whom used to write for Marvel Comics, another of whom writes young adult novels; friends involved in music at their local churches; friends who play in amateur orchestras; my piano-teaching, church-choir-leading mother; and no doubt loads of others who escape memory right now — if left out not, not really forgotten!

So I hope that you will not simply consume the art around you — music, books, sculptures, paintings, gardens, films — but make a little art yourself. Find sanity, immortality, light in a dark world.

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