Ask yourself whether you have engaged fully with your artistic side. You may say yes, if you have found clarity in the meanings of music, whichever genre it may be, or have discovered beauty in the aesthetics of visual art. Ask your parents or grandparents the same question, and they may be less likely to affirm this. They may never have been given the opportunity to pursue an artistic passion, even if they possessed notable talent for it, as it was stigmatised by older generations as not being lucrative enough to provide for a family, and therefore, being useless. In their younger years, the arts may have been too shrouded in elitist classism for them to have been willing to engage with them. In their older years, they may have lost their once-present open-mindedness towards learning a musical instrument, or attending musical theatre shows and orchestral recitals.
However, they have been more exposed to the arts than they think, as it is their cultural heritage through which they are able to enrich their understanding of the appeal of these artistic mediums, purely for the sake of art. My pappou was always engrossed with my learnings of music in my childhood, despite his traditional and simple upbringing. I was not certain as to why until I discovered, years later, that his father had been a senior priest back in his village near Florina. Byzantine influences are rich in the repertoire of an Orthodox church chorale. His childhood and ancestry thus directly served as conduits through which my pappou was able to recite prayer and appreciate music. Regretfully, he will never see me sing alongside the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, but his love for the arts was second to none, and he is my strongest role model in reflecting my Greekness through my own musical interpretations.
Recently, with my parents and my brother, I saw the most recent theatrical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ at the Arts Centre. In the form of a novel, its themes were incredibly potent in reflecting the human psyche, all provoked by Dorian’s reverence of Lord Henry’s sordid take on hedonism and yielding to temptation. Wilde spares no controversy in his characters, from Dorian’s obsession with his beauty after having made a deal with the devil in exchange for eternal youth, to Basil Hallward’s worship of the ‘young Greek martyr’ whom he endearingly praised as his ultimate muse. Idolatry, in this sense, presented itself in two forms: the incorrigible love for oneself, and the all-consuming love for one’s artistic inspiration. The former is strongly reminiscent of the myth of Narcissus, who stared pitifully into the icy cold depths of his own reflection, and the latter somewhat echoes, if not parodies, Plato’s own contemplations of the meaning of love through the speeches of other famous contemporaries in his renowned ‘Symposium’.
Whether we believe it to be true or not, Hellenism as an ideal has served as the pinnacle of creative virtuosity and the benchmark of scholarly thought. Wilde himself showered acclaim over it through his character of Lord Henry, who so desperately coveted a form of neo-Hellenism in Basil Hallward’s mythologically inspired portrait of Dorian. Lord Byron, a poet of the Romantic Era, became so invested in it that he ultimately sacrificed himself for Greek Independence. Art has clearly reinforced its foundations with Hellenism, and we as Greeks should be proud of that very fact.
Maybe art is not so useless after all.