Poetry, Beauty, Romance, Love

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” 

— Professor John Keating, played by Robin Williams, “Dead Poet’s Society.”

This editor’s note, introducing LEO’s 2014 Arts and Entertainment Guide, was originally planned to be an exploration into why the arts matter to this community — to this editor, why it is important to highlight the arts one week of the year, if not 52.

That said, this editor’s note comes upon the passing of Robin Williams. Williams was called a comedian, actor, entertainer and so on. He was all of these things, but above all he was an artist. 

Somewhere, someone once said — much more eloquently than paraphrased here — that great civilizations come and go, but the only evidence that they ever existed was in the art they left behind. The culture of any great civilization is their legacy — it is the only life that endures today.

It is easy in this age of advanced technology to lose perspective on what truly matters to our great, modern civilization. And let us not question or diminish that greatness. Space travel and exploration, the Internet, cellphone, iPad … these are all tremendous accomplishments for which we as a global civilization — probably the first global civilization — should be proud.

Now consider all of the great cultures that preceded us. What is their lasting impact? The Ancient Egyptians created monuments, structures and statues. The Romans and Greeks brought us architecture and the art of rhetoric, which we replicate, admire and study today. The Renaissance accelerated art at a pace history had never before seen, from the visual masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt, to the sculpting and architectural feats of Bernini and Donatello, as well as the profound, poetic storytelling of Shakespeare. Renaissance music spawned a new wave of what we refer to as classical music, and possibly the most notable musician of another culture, Mozart. 

This is an obscure, probably disrespectful, snapshot of thousands of years of art and artists, still influencing us today. And if you — or more likely a young person you know — do not believe it impacts you today, then picture what watching any movie would be without the music that accompanies it. For example, the latest Batman trilogy — a modern action series filled with explosions and special effects — without a classical music score would be devoid of meaningful emotional impact.

Why? Because that is what art is. Art is the root of the emotional manifestation within each of us. 

Let us put this theory to the test. Imagine your potential emotional response to the following arts: architecture, dance, literature, music, visual.

My reactions would be: Architecture = Awe. Dance = Embarrassment. Literature = Curiosity. Music = Confidence. Visual = Joy.

The goal of any artist has to be to create something that arouses an emotional reaction from any who consume it. It is in this vein that, in addition to comedian, actor and entertainer, Robin Williams must also be considered an artist. If for no other reason, how many individuals have made us all laugh, cry, hope, desire, pity, panic, surprise and love? Only a truly brilliant artist is capable of bringing out the spectrum of emotions that Williams did. 

We must capture from the tragic death of Williams the motivation and inspiration to create more — as he was inspired by those artists whom came before him.

Here in Louisville, we are one of only a handful of cities with resident companies of the five major performing arts — ballet, dance, orchestra, opera and theater. We have a tremendous visual arts community. We all hear that they need our support to be sustained… I say we need their support if we are to sustain. 

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” What will our verse be?