Happiness as Portrayed by the Artists (Part 1)

I would like to turn to the great masters of the fine arts to further explore the achievement of happiness: Maslow’s final level of his hierarchy of needs, Csikszentmihalyi’s forging a unity with universal values, and the ability of Campbell’s hero to go back and forth between the everyday world and the spiritual world.  I would like to focus first on the individual and then later turn to the flourishing of society.

The fulfillment that is encountered upon reaching happiness is a completion of one’s destiny or mission in life.  The life that is experienced by those in true happiness is one free from all fears and human desires, competitiveness, striving, fatigue, and personal ambitions.

Let’s look at one master of the art world.

The Agnew Clinic

(Eakins, 1889, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia)

The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins,

This is a work showing in stark gruesome realism the mastectomy of the woman lying on the operating table and the surgeon/instructor standing to the left.  It depicts the surgeon as the teacher/hero to those in the surgical circle as well as the stands.  He is self-sufficient and independent from the others in the painting.  He is able to go back and forth from the relaxed and fulfilled world of an esteemed teacher to a noted surgeon (depicted with scalpel in left hand) in the everyday world of medicine.

Not one character in the painting is looking directly at the surgeon/teacher – it is as if he is not present.   But the viewer sees him as one that is confident, free of all desires and ambitions, and fatigue-free and alert to his surroundings and duties.  He is free to go from the everyday world to the spiritual world (in which he is seen standing) at his discretion.  The surgeon/teacher has no need of attention or praise from others – he is above all that and perhaps witnessing peak experiences.

More great art to come

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