I’ve heard versions of this sentiment before — probably back in the old art school days in the early 80’s — but came across it again in the NYT today while trolling articles about art and music. Specifically, the story was about a huge sale of Damien Hurst art at auction (snore) and the haul that this one particular collection took. Stories about the commerce of art bore and slightly offend me for some reason.
But in discussing the seeming incongruity between the financial news of the day and the record sales at auction the old line was tossed out, to paraphrase, that when empires fall all that is left is the art.
True, and not just the statues in the public squares or the mosaics in the buildings or the coveted paintings that become the capital seizures of invading armies, but the poetry, the stories, the dramas. These things aren’t created for posterity, they endure because they speak to something within us as humans, through the generations, they call to us in languages we don’t speak so much as we feel. We can buy and trade in the arts but we never truly own them. When we die their ownership passes to others who become nothing more than caretakers for future generations.
Our stories, our words, our songs, those things we struggle to understand and share with others, they take on lives of their own. The Greeks, the Romans, the Assyrians, Egyptians, the various empires of Asia and the Americas, and all that’s left is the art.
Makes me want to create something.