Arts for Your Sake
By Patrick F. Cannon
While driving on an errand the other day, I was listening to WFMT, Chicago’s classical radio station. They were playing Franz Joseph Haydn’s trumpet concerto. It’s tuneful and lyrical, and a suitable challenge for a soloist. I’ve heard Wynton Marsalis, Maurice Andre and Chicago’s own Adolph “Bud” Herseth do it justice.
These days, with the presidential election only days away, I find myself avoiding the news as much as I can. Haydn will abide; his music will be played and listened to long after today’s political babble is forgotten. I doubt if the current president even knows who Haydn is; I’m sure he thinks classical music – and art in general – is for losers and suckers (and he actually boasts about not reading).
But if you’re as tired as I am of the debased politics of our time, then turn it off and turn on the arts. Instead of watching MSNBC or Fox, tune in to your favorite music, whether classical, jazz or pop. If you feel able, go to the movies; or find favorites on one of the many streaming services. Watch public television, and don’t forget to donate. If your favorite live theatre company is doing something on-line, sign up and send them some money. Can you imagine what is must be like to be a stage actor, a dancer, or a free-lance musician at a time like this? Try to keep them alive.
If you’re a Chicagoan, get yourself to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), the Chicago History Museum – or the Field, Adler or Shedd. Or your favorite house museum or historical society. If you value them, go. Become a member of the one’s you love best. If you can afford it, donate extra. If you don’t live in or near Chicago, I’m sure there are arts organizations near you that need support.
Always have a book, or two or three, to read. When was the last time you read one of the classics? Moby Dick, despite what people who haven’t read it say, is both readable and a great book. Even War and Peace, at a mere 1150 pages, is doable, especially if you have a good memory for Russian names. Or you could read the collected short stories of Oak Park’s Ernest Hemingway; I think they’re his best work.
What visual art you value is subjective. Jeff Koons, at least in terms of what his work fetches at auction, is one of the great artists of the day. I happen to think he’s a con man and charlatan, but if you love him, you can see some of his work at the Art Institute or the MCA. But at AIC you can also see the work of Rembrandt, Titian, Velasquez, Monet, Manet, Hopper, Homer, Matisse and Picasso. All have stood the test of time, the best art critic of all.
One of the greatest paintings of all time is Velasquez’s Aesop. It’s home is Madrid’s Prado museum, but it was on loan to AIC several years ago. Hung next to a similar painting by Manet, it showed the Greek fableist (is that a word?) holding a sheaf of papers. The artist’s model was a Madrid street beggar. He shows the wisdom gained through experience and pain. Look it up on the internet or at your local library. But if you prefer a Koon’s bunny or puppy, so be it.
Finally, to give poetry its due, here’s one President Trump should read, but won’t. It may offer some of us perspective and consolation. It’s Shelley’s Ozymandias.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell us that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on these Works, ye Mighty and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Copyright (except the poem!) 2020, Patrick F. Cannon
4 thoughts on “Arts for Arts Sake”
Pat, thank you for once again lightening my heart and brightening my day! You reminded me how much better I feel whenever I do lose myself in music, a good book, visual arts (except Koons), and my fabrics and threads. You gave me an extra nudge to go ahead and buy that harp and learn to play it!
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I would opt for an Irish harp. Smaller! By the way, Lyon & Healy here in Chicago make the best harps.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
We memorized Shelley’s famous poem in high school. This was in Rome, so we could, if so moved, visit the poet’s grave in the Non-Catholic cemetery, adjacent to the hill of discarded Roman amphorae known as Mt. Testaccio, outside the walls where Keats is also buried. The inscription on Keats’s gravestone nearby, which doesn’t include his name, reads, “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.” The anti-Ozymandias.
The real life Ozymandias, his Greek name, was of course Ramesses II who we know, thanks to the Brits who plundered Egypt’s sandy antiquities, enjoyed a long, prosperous reign during which he constructed many stunning monuments to himself that until the terrorist disturbances helped drive the local tourist trade. The vast ruins, here and elsewhere, played on the melancholic sensibilities of consumptive young British poets and artists.
One wonders if some disgruntled ancient Antifa group did not pull down the colossal statue, leaving trunkless legs of stone. Could that be the reason why the Pharaohs started building pyramids? They are much harder to pull down!
Shelley’s tombstone, shaded by cypress trees, “Like burnt-out torches by a sick man’s bed” is a marble slab with a line from Shakespeare’s Tempest. His name was also writ in water, in a sense. He died romantically if tragically at the age of 29, by drowning in a sea storm that capsized his boat and washed his lifeless body to shore.
How charming it would be if our presidential candidates hurled poetic verses at each other instead of hackneyed insults like “C’mon man,” “Shut up!” “Liar!” and “Mafia boss!”
We might have, “Waken thyself from thy subterranean lair, O feeble one!” and “Pestilential scourge of millions, get thee from thy alban abode!”
It would made politics seem civil, again!
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Poor Shelley. Poets seem doomed to die young. Oh, that politicians did!