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Peeks and Piques! Creativity revisited………………

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES March/ April 2012

IN MY LAST “Peeks & Piques!” (February Online Issue) I wrote about artists and the stances of some religious belief systems — or at least the “spokespersons” of such systems — toward art and its creators. I took it a step further (surprise!) and turned my reading toward earlier times, times when gods and goddesses were less definitive in their wants and desires, less demanding in their expectations from mere mortals. Oh, they might have been consulted when a battle was being considered or whether it was propitious or not to pursue some course such as choosing this or that one for a wife or a king; but, generally, they were not much expected to get into the mundane business of day-to-day activities. Take the ancient Greeks, for instance. For them, the ideal was for humans to seek virtue — not the namby-pamby modern type of “niceness”, but of virtu, meaning a manly standard of right and/or morality; upstanding, true, noble — you get what I mean. It didn’t matter if you visited this or that oracle, sacrificed to this or that god — the point was to just be a good human being, to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning without feeling a bit shame-faced about your behavior yesterday. This meant that we ought to choose what we do, what we admire, what we want in life carefully.  A king, for example (according to Plutarch) was amazed to see some wealthy strangers carrying puppies and monkeys in their arms, embracing them and making much of them. He wondered whether or not women in their country bore children? Why lavish all that affection and kindness on brute beasts? Plutarch (in his life of Pericles) goes on to warn about “entertaining and taking notice of everything and anything that addresses our senses.” Just because a colorful image, for example, impresses us favorably, we ought not pursue it at expense of neglecting what is best and choicest for our contemplation. So much for the painter/colorist. Virtu demands more discrimination in what we choose to do or desire to own. Antisthenes, for example, when informed that a certain man was an excellent piper responded, “It may be so, but he is but a wretched human being, otherwise he would not have been an excellent piper.” Likewise, Alexander the Great’s father, King Philip, once heard his son charmingly and skillfully playing a piece at some merry-making and asked him, “Are you not ashamed, son, to play so well?” So much for the musician — pop star or not. Alexander apparently saw the light, since it was not long before he went out to conquer the world instead of plunking away at his instrument. As Plutarch explains, it does not necessarily follow that because a piece of work — a song, a poem, a painting — pleases you for its gracefulness, that he or she who wrought it deserves our admiration. Practicing virtu — by merely its own bare statement of action — can and ought affect men’s minds to follow suit. It’s one thing to take note of a good song, poem or painting, but it is quite another to emulate the moral purpose of those who practice virtu. So…in other words, it takes a no-frills, full-time life to possess virtu — to be a fully-realized man ala the ancient Greek.  Hoo boy! And here I am, not only wasting my time being a writer, but writing about art and artists for the past 35 years as if it was important! Now I really have a headache!

Visit my blog at rjsteiner.wordpress for more short essays on Life, Culture and Art.