THE BLOG

The "Light Bulb" Moment

01/11/2012 02:22 pm ET | Updated Mar 12, 2012

Bear with me. I am a little jetlagged.

I just returned to my hotel after visiting the Prado museum in Madrid. I am here this week to sing the role of Mary in the quasi-oratorio L'enfance du Christ (infancy of Christ) by Hector Berlioz.

In years past I would make, at the very least, ten trips a year to sing in Europe. It became a routine. Not taking the trip across the pond on a regular basis has made me rusty. This is my second trip to Europe this year. The first was a luxurious trip to Munich on a private jet -- my one and only such experience. This time I came equipped with power bars and other goodies to keep me going. I also brought the homeopathic "No Jet Lag" and "Airborne" products.
(I regret that I am not a paid spokesperson.) I drank tons of water and squeezed saline up my nasal passages every hour. if I were not singing none of the above would matter.

Since I pay my own travel I flew economy, as I am too much of a miser to pay business class prices. (I also want to save so that when I get old enough for the social security which will not be there, I have something to carry me through). It was a pretty miserable journey. Either the legroom has become more cramped or I have gotten taller. It would have at least been nice to reach down to my carry-on which was placed under the seat in front of me. To do this, I would have to ask the other two members of my row to get up.

I digress.

As I was reading my map of Madrid I noticed so many street names and plazas named after writers, painters, etc. This is true of most European cities. As an opera singer it comes as a relief and a feeling of belonging as opposed to the United States where the classical arts seem to be sorely undervalued.

Considering the USA is occupied by many people of European ancestry, and was founded by said folks, I would think we would value our artistic roots more, at least being damn sure that we educate our children of this. Artistic treasures of all types must be studied to appreciate those of our present day. In our current world of instant gratification and short attention spans -- it is easy to forget what came before.

Back to the Prado. Many will growl when they read that I am not an art museum person. I like history museums better. I am not happy when the backache sets in from standing long periods on marble or granite floors. That said, I have never been so stupid as to avoid a place like the Prado or the Louvre, or Tate...Something tells me that it will be good for me.

The Prado is magnificent. It is one of the few art museums I have visited in which the building did not upstage the art. As a bonus, not only did I see the great Spanish art of El Greco, Goya, Vasquez, Picasso and more, but also there was a show from The Hermitage of St. Petersburg, Russia. There were also amazing Ruben's, Rembrandt, and others too numerous to mention.

Seeing these in person can take one's breath away. The light and shadows depicted in works, long before there was electric light to shine on the subjects, was pretty amazing. The realization that a person created the painting by paint and brush strokes rings true when seeing a painting live and not reproduced in a book. There are cracks, imperfections, and incomplete corners. The colors or lack thereof, also jump out. The immensity of the painter's talents is on full display. The term masterpiece becomes obvious.

The art from the Hermitage could have been destroyed after the fall of the Czar and the Bolshevik Revolution. Thank god someone had the where withall to save it. As a matter of fact, though all centuries of regime changes and wars our world is lucky anything survived. The point is, it did. Will that continue?

Back now in my room, reflecting on the day, I am going on to state some obvious, but in our day, frequently overlooked ideas regarding the arts.

1) History
Looking at scenes from centuries ago depicted on canvas is like a great photo exhibition, visually documenting the times and the people -- the garments, the food, the dishware, animals, body types, events. The works are not just about the amazing groundbreaking technique or the radical subject matter, but so much more. Of course, the exact replication of a subject, or an emotion that hits you over the head by the reality of a scene, is genius. These works can be historically informative in subtle ways.

Light bulb! The arts are needed for context. Art being created today will be needed in the future. They document our life and history.

2) Much art was created to glorify the existence of Jesus, Mary, the Saints and other biblical events.

Before our country gets too much into talk of cutting the arts, I hope that conservatives, especially those of the religious right, will not forget that the world did not just leap from the resurrection of Christ to the present day. Art historically played a great role in preserving the stories from the bible in both old and new testaments. Mythology, a staple of early civilization was also depicted. Let's not forget also the non-Christian world, which has existed and continues to exist with a bounty of visual, poetic, and musical arts. Perhaps it is a good policy to continue investment in the arts.

Light bulb! The arts should continually be supported for the greater good. To walk away from what has taken centuries to build would be a catastrophic choice. We are part of a whole that goes far back before our imagination. Who are we to dismiss it as unimportant?

3.) Much art was commissioned and/or assembled by Kings, Queens, Czars, and/or the church.
Where would civilization be had these people not had the appreciation and the foresight, not to mention the means, to support the arts and bring them to the common people.

Light bulb! The visual, performing, decorative, and literary arts all need patrons who see a larger picture, larger than just making a financial killing.Aside from the art hoarders, lets keep encouraging those who are backing it for our common good and future.

On a sort of related topic, I heard a round table discussion last week on NPR, about why there is no longer a need for a BA degree. I suppose if you want to wheedle down a person to what they do for a living rather than who they are, then it may be true but it sets a dangerous precedent. I fear the study of the humanities is becoming less and less important. I am no historian but I am sure that the great scientists of the world, ie: Galileo, Newton and others, actually could see their work in conjunction with the humanities. Need I also point out the work of the ancient Greeks and Romans, philosophy hand in hand with science and mathematics? I know many present day physicians and scientists who adore classical music.

The news rattling in the opera world this week is the lock out of musicians at New York City Opera. It is alarming on many fronts and although I am not privy to the negotiations, I know that these singers, musicians, stage directors, scenic designers, are no longer considered a vital part of New York.

NY City Opera's web page states:

"Imaginative, adventurous, and accessible, New York City Opera was founded with the purpose of making great opera available to a modern, wide-reaching audience. For more than sixty years, since Mayor Fiorello La Guardia established its reputation as "The People's Opera," the company has stayed true to its original promise: introducing generation after generation of young singers who are stars in the making, bringing the public exciting new works and compelling, fresh interpretations of classics, acting as a champion for American composers and performers, and ensuring that today's opera, and tomorrow's, can be a part of every New Yorker's life."

This is not the first or last company to fold. Orchestras, opera and dance companies have been closing left and right around the country. By the way, it is not just about unions or the economy but the lack of interest by people in the public eye, in DC, state governments, in our educational system, by people who could set an example but do not. Ironically, these arts groups are brought down by money woes. Money is exactly the thing that keeps popular culture up and running. Whether it is rock, hip-hop, country, jazz, sports events, TV shows hunting the next talent for 15 minutes of fame, it is about the bottom line -- the holy US dollar and the commercial exploitation thereof.

The paintings and sculptures in the Prado were not about the bottom line when they were produced. I doubt they ever thought of in that light until time proved them to be irreplaceable, valuable pieces.

Supporting the arts was then and is now the right thing to do for our civilization, our hearts, minds, emotions and our future. Let's not screw it up. It is time for people to step up to the plate. We need to stop thinking our little world is so darn important and realize there is a much larger picture.