12 Nov 2007

Questions we should be asking about Etruscan art

I was talking to someone recently in an email and "art" came up. I know this seems crazy but I find myself hating the word "art", not because I hate the concept of art but because it almost strikes me as a word that's been hijacked since the 20th century to mean the very opposite of what it used to mean. As a child, I was enrolled in piano lessons and forced to spend many horrible hours on a hard, wooden bench learning classical music. My parents meant well but their focus was in hindsight superficial, always concentrating on what level of exams I could reach rather than encouraging me to appreciate the musical arts for its expressive beauty and meaning. If I had done it again, I would have told all the adults off and played what I like from the Romantic Era. However, to pass exams, students are forced to play music from a standard selection of eras no matter how uninspiring. So I would have to play a lot of music from time periods that I just didn't like all that much. One era that I found myself disliking the most seemed to be the modern era, anything after 1940. It seems to me that after the 1940s, everyone went stark-raving mad and decided to surgically seperate art from its purpose (i.e. meaningful self-expression), making art into a goal or product in and of itself. No longer was art "enslaved" by higher purpose or structure and this glorious emancipation was seen as an abstract victory of liberal thought. Yet whenever I came across a "modern" composition to play, I would cringe and even have a tortured tear in my eye, knowing that I would have to endure, for some time as I practiced it, the random set of completely meaningless notes that even its own artist had no passion for. And I see this same theme of depressed meaninglessness in Andy Warhol's art and the art of many famed people. The modern era to me is and will always be the Era of Nihilism, a systematic destruction of all meaning, in culture, in art, in history, in science, in religion, in society, in law, in respect, and in the beauty of individual self-sufficiency and expression. In an era where everything and everyone can be mass produced, art becomes soulless.

As such, in this modern era of disenlightenment, I find that people forget that art had meaning once. That art could have meaning and purpose lovingly bestowed on the artwork by the very artist of the piece, rather than the artist shirking his responsibility to provide meaningful art and offering the resultant static noise to the beholder to subjectively interpret in complete vain. In regards to ancient "art", unlike modern "art", it is up to the beholder to research and understand the true intent of the artist. Without going to this trouble, these artifacts are not appreciated in their fullest sense and we forfeit our right to our own history.

So this entry is going to be devoted to questions. Lots of them. Questions that we should be asking ourselves when looking at these relics to shake ourselves free from the modern intellectual vacuum. If the books you find on Etruscan art and mythology aren't even trying to answer these questions or the one's that you the reader can think of, it's a hint that the books are just more pablum for the masses.

Here's a sample mirror showing the unusual scene of Heracles (here represented fully grown although he is supposed to be a child at the time) suckling the breast of his mother, Hera:

I'm not terribly boggled by the overall scene here, which is more-or-less understandable if we do a quick search for the Greek tales of Heracles. The scene and its overall significance is covered already in many books. What I want to know are the questions on details, the tiny motifs that people are easily glossing over. The kinds of things that either make or break people's narrow pet theories on Etruscan religion.

I'll be discussing this mirror's details and others later but for now, allow yourself to ponder openly on Etruscan mythology. This is not just a vacuous mystery to fantasize about but rather it is an overripe riddle deserving and capable of being solved if we stand up to the challenge.


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