For my Renaissance project I am researching Renaissance philosophy. Humanism is a school of thought central to the Renaissance era. During the Medieval era, much of Europe was organized in a feudal society, and religion enforced the idea that an individuals place in a society was not to be defied. Many Medieval scholars thought preparing the soul for life after death was the most important thing to do in life. Eloquent and ostentatious use of language was looked down upon and simple, direct language was favored. The Renaissance brought an emancipation of the individual and a reawakening of the Muse. There was a turn away from the ascetic aspect of Christianity and a turn towards a freeing of the spirit to delight in all things sensual and intellectual. Instead of living in accordance with securing a favorable place in the afterlife, new philosophies were concerned with living a good life here and now, like many philosophies of antiquity. More than an actual embracement of the science and reason, the humanists had a new appreciation for all beautiful things; worldly, materialistic and even pagan. I think they put more emphasis on humans by embracing expressions of the self that would have been considered decadent in the Medieval era.
It is interesting that material things are often blamed for the root of many problems in present day society. People suffer from becoming too attached to their ownership or invention of a thing. Artists struggle to find happiness when their art isn’t accepted by critics and audiences, or if they find themselves lacking in talent. It seems that the greatest gift to humans, the inventions that flow from the creative spirit, is often the cause of suffering. And what about those descriptions in the Bible about the lilies in the field and giving up material possessions to have that eternal place in heaven? In her excellent book on how to write, If You Want To Write, Brenda Ueland differentiates between the human and divine ego. The divine ego is commitment to ones work while the human ego is a static worship and deprecation of the creator of ones work. People with too big of a human ego get conceited and give up too easily. They say ‘no one will ever understand my art so I will never be famous’ or ‘I can never be as good as another artist’, causing them to become depressed. But the solution to this problem is not denial of the human will, but it is to be self confident and stand by ones work, no matter what critics say. It is God’s mandate that an artist stands by his work and I think many great artists have understood this considering all the great art that has been made in the name of God. Ueland writes “self-confidence never rests, but it is always working, striving, and it is always modest grateful and open.” Love of material things can be seen as decadent and corrupting of the human spirit, but that is because people lack objectivity. They focus on the self while I believe the key to happiness it to care about things in the outside world.
I admire the artists that in the face of adversary continue to create art because they know their creation is a divine gift to the world. Gustav Mahler, the Austrian composer, exemplifies this point. He wrote symphonic music on a large scale but was never really accepted as a great composer during his lifetime. Jewish by heritage, his career was continuously blocked by anti-Semitics in Vienna. His work was never celebrated during his life and was rarely played in concert halls in the decades following his death. The idealism and rich romanticism that his work embodied didn’t match the zeitgeist of the decades of World War 1 and 2. However, the 1970s brought a resurgence of interest in Maher’s music. His self-indulgent self-expression was attractive to a new generation of music listeners in the decade that Tom Wolfe called the “Me decade”. Much like in the Renaissance, colorful expressions of the self were encouraged in the 1970s—the antithesis of the conservatism of the 1950s and different than the communalism of the late 60s. Prophetically, before his death in 1911, Mahler said, “my time will come.” Mahler was a great interpreter of Richard Wagner, despite Wagner’s involvement in antisemitism. With some objectivity and selflessness, I believe beauty can achieve transcendence. I say let the world be open to all things bright and beautiful and let us not be jealous or afraid or overly humble. Like peacocks, we should carry our tails proudly and delight in the each other’s plumage.
“Gustav Mahler.” Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Mahler>.
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want To Write. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1987. Print.
Rummel , Erika . The Humanist-Scholastic Debate. Cambridge, Massachusettes: Harvard University Press , 1998. Print.