There was a time in ancient Greece when all works of art were attributed to the inspiration granted by a group of seven goddesses. Collectively they were known as the Muses. Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Thalia, and Urania would visit mere mortals, often while they slept; sowing the seeds of artistic and literary inspiration. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and Chaucer all paid tribute to the Muses in their various works.
Throughout the Renaissance, artists and scribes were further encouraged through kind acts of patronage. Kings, Popes, and wealthy families would support the efforts of musicians, artists, and writers. In exchange for bestowing a comfortable living and encouragement for their work; artisans were expected to pay homage to their benefactors in works of art. Yes, it might seem like “selling out” upon first blush. But without the great patrons, artists such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Mozart, and a host of others would have been sentenced to historical obscurity.
In the modern age, the arts have been relegated to extracurricular status within our schools. Art, music, theater, and writing become the sacrificial lambs whenever public education budgetary cutbacks are announced. Instead, we favor putting money into science and mathematics; hoping for some massive future global economic payback for our prudent investment! Yes, the monetary well-being of our nation is important to me as well; but have we somehow lost sight of the enrichment that the arts bring into our lives?
There was a time in history where a family’s wealth and social status was determined by the artwork that hung in their homes and the books that filled their library. Now we throw movie posters on the wall and watch reality television rather than read. Our children have to share textbooks in the classroom and use web-based synopses for their book reports! They idolize musicians whose only claim to fame is the ability to rhyme curse words and the diamonds they have embedded in their teeth!
Less than one hundred years ago, the liberal arts education was treasured. Philosophy, latin, poetry, dance, and rhetoric formed the foundation for any well-educated individual; regardless of which career path they chose. We were taught to think independently, defend our opinions, and contribute to the knowledge of future generations. Today our college majors are determined by average projected lifetime earnings. We are bombarded with messages that equate our worth to the car we drive or the clothes we wear!
In an age of corporate corruption, a void of true leadership, and a lack of inspiration; can we recoup that idyllic age of knowledge and expression? Can we put value on artistic effort? Can we appreciate the beauty that comes from creating a masterpiece and sharing it with generations to come? Will a new class of benefactors, be they wealthy individuals or multinational conglomerates, furnish patronage for the next great artists?
Today, while you are busy checking your mutual fund account balances and executing your online stock trades; I will be off on a slightly different type of endeavor. It seems that my personal Muse needs to be checked out of her retirement home. The two of us have quite a bit of work to get underway!