Tag Archives: art

Culture 101

While this website focuses on finding the road to happiness, one of the side benefits is the introduction to culture, or the arts, or the humanities.

If you missed art appreciation or music appreciation in school, or didn’t find the courses relevant to you, here is another chance at tackling the great works of art.

This time we add a purpose to the art – finding happiness.  Rather than studying art for art’s sake, which I admit is very difficult and often boring, we have added a new slant to the world of art or culture – its insights into how each of us can find the road to happiness.  This approach is very unique.  I have never seen art presented through this type of lens.

In addition, only 78 works of art can be found in our ebook and in this website.  We think that this is all that is needed.  Obviously, there are thousands of artistic masterpieces; however, it would take too long to present all of them.

Finally, these 78 works of art have withstood the test of time and remain in our culture.  These 78 works are ones that each of us should recognize and appreciate if we are to be “cultured” with an understanding of current society aw well as those past societies that have contributed to our current time.

So, if you are looking for an introduction to the study of culture, or would like to understand the importance of culture to today’s world, or how culture can help you find your way through life, or perhaps all three, then stay with us.  If nothing else, our book gives you a list of the great masterpieces of art, and even interprets them for you.  It ties them together with one thread – the interpretation of what drives us to do what we do and how we can get on the right road and stay on it long enough to reach what each of us is looking for.


What is Culture?

One of the side benefits of my book is the collection of great masterpieces in art, poetry, music, and dance/ballet.  The art and poetry are found in the book and the music and ballet performances are found in this website.

The reason that these pieces of art were selected is that they translate the ideas displayed in each of the six galleries of my book into human expressions of life.  Each work of art is critical to understanding the road to happiness.

If you believe, as I do, that Aristotle was correct in stating that the meaning or aim of life is to find happiness, then these great works of art are necessary to give each of us the inspiration  and guidance to move forward towards happiness.

As Tolstoy said about the reason for art, “To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced and having evoked it in oneself then by means of movements, lines, colours, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.”

“Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by these feelings and also experience them.”

“Art … is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

I believe that if you put the ideas of Aristotle together with those of Tolstoy, what you get is the following: the purpose of art is to pass onto others the human feelings and experiences necessary to achieve happiness as witnessed by those who have found happiness, and that these expressions of those human feelings are indispensable not only for each of us in finding the meaning of life but also for the flourishing of society, which would not be possible without those among finding the meaning of life.

I believe that culture is the avenue through which the arts attempt to answer the meaning of life.  It is this avenue that makes the road to happiness easier to find and to travel, once it is found.

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 8)

Continuing with my last post, the artists validate the teachings of the great thinkers (both ancient and modern) regarding happiness.  What is equally amazing is that the artists are in universal agreement as to the description of the state of happiness.

Their perception of happiness is remarkably objective and their experiences, as portrayed in their works, are strikingly similar.  Maslow suggests, “… if self-actualizing people can and do perceive reality more efficiently, fully and with less motivational contamination that we others do, then we may possibly use them as biological assays.  Through their greater sensitivity and perception, we may get a better report of what reality is like, than through our own eyes, just as canaries can be used to detect gas in mines before less sensitive creatures can.”  What better use of great artists than to have their technical expertise and virtuosity, perfected through their many personal trials, put to use representing an objective display of happiness as witness during their periods of peak experiences as self-actualized individuals!

It is this depiction by the self-actualized artist, the hero returning from the adventure with St. Thomas’ final virtue in hand, integrated with other people and universal values, which is their gift to society.  It is incumbent upon us all to follow their inspiration and continue our personal journeys of collecting IOUs to be cashed in at a future date for our own “Heaven on earth.”

More to come!

Book’s Summary in Images – Part 5

In my previous posts, I talked about how the thinkers and artists provide a three dimensional view of happiness, with the thinkers and artists verifying one another.  I also talked about how the harnessing of the entrepreneur within each of us serves as the vehicle for traveling within the three dimensional pyramid.

The vehicle takes us upward to the apex of the pyramid if we use our entrepreneurial instincts.  Once prepared for the journey with assistance from our family and a just society, we enter into “involvement” activities and then “exposure” activities leading to proper self-esteem.  We then must recognize and accept the call, if sent, to begin the adventure.  The virtues of wisdom and courage help us with this segment of the adventure.  We must all resist temptation and use the preparation earned earlier to fight the many battles to secure the boon.  Once the boon is secured, we must be willing to return to the threshold (justice) and await help to return back to the everyday world with the boon intact.

The following work by Homer is a great representation of this moment in which the hero adventurer, aided by the virtues of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, is at the threshold looking for the love of others to pull him back to the everyday world.  In this painting, the veteran has put aside his Civil War gear for those of the farmer.  He has survived the war and is now willing to help his country begin a new period of growth and prosperity.  But, he is alone.  He needs help to reconnect to his community that he left to fight the war.  In 1865, when this work was completed, is was uncertain if he would be accepted.  Fortunately, he was accepted and the boon of his desire to help rebuild a new country was delivered to his countrymen and happiness was achieved for the veteran.

Homer - The Veteran in a New Field

The Veteran in a New Field, Winslow Homer (1865)

As mentioned above, only with the love of one’s neighbor from those in the everyday world is the adventurer able to cross the threshold.  This crossing brings great happiness to the adventurer and the boon to society.  Just as with the veteran in the painting, the IOUs of life are now cashed in for happiness – the happiness of the returning veteran and the flourishing of society.

The IOUs are the many trials and suffering of the veteran during battle that he was courageous enough to accept, remain focused to the task at hand, and noble to secure the boon that was his to find.  He reward for these many IOUs are his happiness and the flourishing of his society.  Spectacular art representing a spectacular way of living!

Summary of First Segment of Happiness

The last few posts have shown how the great artists, poets, composers, and dancers represent the feelings of protection and safety that our family and community offer to most of us.  It is these feelings that we must all experience, or have experienced in the past, if we are to be prepared to move forward in life.

What is really fascinating is that these feelings represent the same ideas or “prose” of the great thinkers.  For example, understanding that most individuals’ need for safety is best explained from a child’s perspective, Maslow writes, “He [the child] seems to want a predictable, orderly world.  For instance, injustice, unfairness, or inconsistency in the parents seems to make a child feel anxious and unsafe. … The average child in our society generally prefers a safe, orderly, predictable, organized world, which he can count on, and in which unexpected, unmanageable or other dangerous things do not happen, and in which, in any case, he has all-powerful parents who protect and shield him from harm.”  In fact, even Aristotle understood that we must be fortunate enough to have parents and fellow citizens who help us become virtuous.

If you review the works of art from the last few posts you will see that they represent a “safe, orderly, predictable, organized world, which he [the child] can count on, and in which unexpected, unmanageable or other dangerous things do not happen …”  This observation by Maslow is mirrored in the artistic works.

It is really nice when the great thinkers (ancient and modern) and the master artists are saying the same thing.  Perhaps we can take comfort in that this first step, which most of us have already taken, is most likely true and, if the thinkers continue to agree with the artists, then the other steps may also be true.

Next up is segment two.


Great Art!

Two and three posts back I presented two poems and two music pieces that represent a feeling of safety and nurturing that only great poets and musicians can depict.

Continuing with the theme of depicting such feelings in art, below is a well-known artistic piece that I think also represent the feeling of security and innocence that a caring family and a just society or community can provide.

Next post, I will end this theme with a ballet piece.

Mary Cassatt's The Child's Bath

Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath (1893)

This painting provides an overhead perspective of dignified motherhood.  The mother is not only performing an act that is needed to safeguard the health of her child, but she is shown expressing a quiet devotion to the activity.  The child’s calm demeanor reflects a safe, organized, and reliable world upon which a child can rely, protected from harm.

What does Culture have to do with Happiness?

In 1869, Matthew Arnold, a respected English author, poet, and literary critic, wrote a very influential book, Culture and Anarchy.  This book was one of the first devoted to the understanding of culture (humanities) and its influence among society.  The book is still important in today’s world.

Prior to Arnold’s work, culture had the meaning of connoisseurship or appreciation of the fine arts.  But Arnold did not agree with that definition calling it “vanity and arrogance,” a “badge” of class distinction.

Arnold redefined culture as “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world …”  By the word perfection he meant our growth to the highest form of humanity.

Arnold went on to say, that this pursuit of perfection was “… the general harmonious expansion of those gifts of thought and feeling, which make the particular dignity, wealth, and happiness of human nature.”  More importantly, he mentioned that the aim of culture is to encourage “a harmonious perfection, developing all sides of humanity … a general perfection, developing all parts of society.”  In essence, the goal of culture was not just to bring about happiness in the individual, it was also to allow the society to flourish.

One final quote from Arnold, “There is a view in which all the love of our neighbor, the impulses towards action, help, and beneficence, the desire for removing human error, clearing human confusion, and diminishing human misery, the noble aspiration to leave the world better and happier than we found it,—motives eminently such as are called social,—come in as part of the grounds of culture, and the main and pre-eminent part.”

It is for all these reasons mentioned above that the fine arts (“arts”) are included with the ideas of great thinkers (“prose’) – the culture as defined by Arnold – into one exposition so that all can find their way to achieving happiness and, simultaneously, contribute to the flourishing of society.

New Vehicle for the Road to Happiness – Part 4

A painting be Winslow Homer, The Morning Bell

The Morning Bell (Homer, 1871)

In my previous post I mentioned that four traits or types of behavior are needed to travel the road to happiness.  It just so happens that these four traits have been identified by researchers as the same traits of “successful” entrepreneurs.  This is good news.

I have already mentioned two of these four traits: education/training and social skills.  Both of these are needed for the journey of life and both have been identified by psychology researchers are requirements of successful entrepreneurs.  It is no big surprise that these traits are needed for the road to happiness.  We all need to be educated/trained to have a job and live in today’s complex world.  We also need social skills to interact with family, friends, our neighbors, and at our job.

However, there are two additional traits of successful entrepreneurs: an orientation to the future and motivation to identify opportunities that others do not see.

Successful entrepreneurs are ones that have an orientation to the future – they are very concerned with “missing the boat” in the distant future and willing to take risks and explore opportunities today to avoid regretting a future lived below expectations.  This is a very important trait and explains a lot of why entrepreneurs do what they do.  They are preoccupied with not experiencing regret in the future for inaction today.  As such, they are willing to do things to ensure that their future will be lived as best as possible.  In essence, these entrepreneurs are proactive – they are taking action today in order to enjoy a future that might be lived above expectations.  They are not waiting for whatever might come their way.

The second trait is related to the above trait: desire to capitalize on opportunities that others do not see.  It is not that entrepreneurs are more prone to taking risks; they just see opportunities differently than others see them.  In fact, they may believe that the opportunities that they see may be less risky than staying in their current job.

Both of these traits are related to each other.  The desire to capitalize on opportunities that others may view as risky is driven by an orientation to the future and a life that will not be lived below expectations.  In other words, “successful” entrepreneurs are always looking for new opportunities in order to make sure that their future is lived as best as possible by those actions taken today.

The above painting by Winslow Homer, discussed in far greater detail in my book, is an excellent depiction of the two traits.  The young woman is viewed leaving her friends for an opportunity that she recognizes and that the others in the group do not see.  In addition, she is  seen expressing a reserved confidence that this new opportunity will lead to a future life lived above her expectations of today.

In the next post, I will summarize all four traits.

The New Vehicle for the Road

A large number of my posts have focused on what the artists and great thinkers have to say about happiness.  I am very confident that the road to happiness can be found in the “prose” of just a few ancient philosophers and a few modern thinkers (vantage point 1), and the “art” of great artists of the past 500 years (vantage point 2).  These masters have not only presented a reliable roadmap to follow but they also depict what happiness looks like when we reach it.  This is all great news!

But, we all live in a modern world not the world of ancient philosophy, myths, and art.  We must travel the road of today’s world using whatever is the best vehicle for getting us to happiness and fulfillment.

The good news is that a lot of work, using today’s latest research techniques, have shined a light on a new vehicle for the travel along the road of today’s world.  In fact, this new vehicle is exactly what we each need move forward in life.

The conclusions of the research, which are needed to provide the confidence to use the vehicle, are just emerging and I am confident that you will find the vehicle ideal for traveling along the road presented by the “prose” of the great ancient and modern thinkers, and the “art” of the great masters for the world of the fine arts.

More to come.

Davids and Goliaths

David by Michelangelo

David by Michelangelo

Last night I was watching a short BookTV interview of Malcolm Gladwell discussing his soon to be released new book – David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

At one point during the interview Mr. Gladwell was asked why is it that most Goliaths (large corporations, politicians, celebrities, etc.), with many successes in the past to be considered Goliaths, suddenly are beaten by Davids (the little guys) and disappear?  Or, why do Goliaths shoot themselves in the foot?  This is an excellent question!

Mr Gladwell answers the question by saying that Goliaths become too comfortable with their lives and rest on their past successes.  They stop innovating, become arrogant and forget where they came from, lose the courage to continue the struggle for the greater good, and refuse to break the cycle of the status quo.

We all can understand how hard it is to give up fame, fortune, and power, especially when it took some much time and effort to get.

I think that the great ancient philosophers, a few modern thinkers, and the masters of the fine arts knew what Mr Gladwell was saying, but they go an extra few steps in answering the question.  Many Goliaths shoot themselves in the foot for the same reasons that Mr. Gladwell mentions – they meet with many successes and stop.  The reason they stop is that they believe that they have reached the end and have all the prizes of life which they have won, and now they can rest.

What they don’t understand, and what the many myths and artists teach us, is that these successful people are fortunate to have the wherewithal to continue the call to adventure, if the call is accepted.  Many goliaths are beaten because they fail to accept this call, which requires courage, humility, moderation, justice, etc.  They cut short their own adventure and forego far greater rewards in the future than what they have accomplished to date.

Against all odds, David accepted the call and beat Goliath.  But as Michelangelo represents, David is not celebrating his triumph (he is not even holding the head of Goliath), he is simply resting knowing that there are many more trials that must be won before his adventure is complete.