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