Ars Gratia Artis
To try is to grow
“If we pretend to respect the artist at all, we must allow him his freedom of choice, in the face, in particular cases, of innumerable presumptions that the choice will not fructify. Art derives a considerable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions.” — Henry James, 1884
You’ve seen the famous MGM lion, right?
But have you taken the time to read what’s on the frame around him?
A quick story about the history of MGM’s famous lion, “Leo,” and then I’ve got a story for you about growth.
MGM was formed by Marcus Loew in 1924 by combining Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures into a single company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM.
To date, there have been eight lions who have been filmed for the MGM production logo. The first was Slats, in the silent era (1924–1928), who didn’t roar; he just looked around (I mean, what else do you expect a silent lion to do, right?).
Between 1928 and 1967, there were five others used in overlapping timeframes, for different subjects (animated shorts, Technicolor, sound-enhanced silent films, etc.). MGM experimented with Bill, Telly, Coffee, Tanner, and George.
But it’s the eighth lion that we all know. Leo (born in the Dublin Zoo as Slats) has been under contract since 1957, and is still shown today.
If you’d care to watch all of them over time, here’s a comprehensive 10-minute video featuring the entire history:
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Back to the frame around Leo’s head. Have you ever read it? It says ARS GRATIA ARTIS. For you non-Latin majors in the back, that means “Art for art’s sake.”
When we undertake certain pursuits, whether they’re categorized as art (music, painting, writing), or not (fishing, chess, podcasting), we do them because we like them. And maybe because we’re good at them — or our expertise grows over time.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? To learn. To grow. To continually educate ourselves in one way or another. And maybe to be inspired along the way.
Kurt Vonnegut on Growth
In 2006, a high school English teacher asked students to write to a famous author and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut — a writer of some of the loveliest letters — was the only one to respond. And his response is magnificent:
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
I love the thought of practiced art of any form making our souls grow. For isn’t that what makes us better people to those around us?
To grow is to know ourselves.
And if we know ourselves, we can share that true self with others.
If you’d like to encourage others to grow by enjoying something that expands their minds, please consider gift subscription to Timeless & Timely. Maybe it’s an employee, or a client, or a family member—whomever you choose, let them know they matter to you:
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.