Marolt: Art, for our sake
The Aspen Times
I saw the Sistine Chapel. I am better because of it; maybe not obviously so, but definitely permanently and far more so than after viewing any other creation of man that I have seen. Even if I can’t produce one, I can at least grasp the concept of the iPhone. I cannot fathom how the expressions of the frescos in the Sistine were conceived, much less executed to viscerally affect all who view them.
From the heights of a mountain or standing on the shore of a deserted coastline as a far-off storm makes its power known through the waves in front of me, for a moment I feel a separate, higher level of existence suspended above the temporal space the world conducts its day-to-day business in and the place I live. I’m sure I am not alone in this. It is why there is universal attraction to such places in nature. We yearn to linger in that state they bring us to where truth becomes apparent and meeting basic needs are all we desire.
The art of the Sistine Chapel demonstrates what can be accomplished by a human being who figures out how to exist on that higher plane for an extended period of time. If only the saints are permanent residents there during their lives on Earth, the likes of Michelangelo were certainly frequent and honored guests. What we consider genius may have everything to do with the portion of the human mind that doesn’t get distracted on its way to this higher level of awareness.
The Sistine Chapel is but the most magnificent display in a huge expanse of space constituting the Vatican Museum devoted to uncountable pieces of priceless art. There is a long-running argument that the Vatican should sell off its treasure trove of art and help the poor and suffering with the vast sums of money that would be realized. I too have wondered if this wouldn’t be the best course of action.
I no longer feel that way after taking a three-hour tour of what one could spend a lifetime studying and marveling over. My reasoning somewhat parallels the adage about giving man food and satisfying his hunger for a day versus teaching him to farm so he can feed himself for a lifetime.
If the Vatican art collection was sold, it’s anybody’s guess how many poor and hungry people could be helped for how long. It would be significant. But, it would be finite. And, what is possibly the most inspirational collection of art in the world would be dispersed into private collections, its benefits inuring only to the highest bidders, and even to them only in bits and pieces as its power as a complete body would be lost. I don’t believe the trade-off would be to the betterment of mankind.
The greatest value of art is not realized through holding it. It comes from beholding it and is magnified by the number of people who do. I believe the indescribably moving collection of art at the Vatican lifts the millions who view it to a higher level of understanding of not only its obvious beauty, but also the varied and powerful expressions of the human condition that inspire it. This is what has great potential to move man to help mankind. It is inspiration!
Aside from removing this great art from the public domain, a sale would turn the process of evaluating it into a common materialistic exercise. Never mind the emotional reaction you have to it or the spiritual place it may carry your mind to, its value is simply the maximum price someone who can pay will cough up. It is more than physical transportation of the art through commercial disbursement. It is moving art from the higher plane of life into the broader one closer to the surface of the Earth where our perspective is easily and often lost.
It is true that the art of the Vatican will eventually perish no matter if it stays where it is or is disseminated through sale. They say that one decent size earthquake in Rome’s active seismic zone could crumble the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s work would be destroyed. Experts have argued over what might be done to avert the great cultural loss should such an event occur and have come up with nothing practicable.
Even when the inevitable happens, the thing that will save the art of the Vatican is the art itself. Some who have seen it possess the talents to come up with works that will continue the inspiration. If great inspiration had not been accessible to them, we might instead be inviting another period of intellectual and emotional staleness.
Roger Marolt knows nothing about art other than feeling off balance when it moves him. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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