There is art, similar to many other types of human activities, which at times has gone out of style or has been forgotten and may never make a comeback.
Most art forms have survived since the earliest antiquity. This is the case for music, dance, literature, poetry, theatre and novels. Others have appeared, such as cinema and photography; and others are still emerging through digital technologies.
There is art that, however, disappears or at least no longer attracts new generations of artists; and their audience ages by one year each year.
This is the case for figurative painting, pastel, tapestry, porcelain, and so many other art forms; even if great masterpieces are constantly being produced in these fields, somewhere in the world. This is also the case for so-called “classical” music, and more particularly opera, whose audience is aging particularly quickly; to the point that one may wonder whether this art form is not simply being replaced by musical theatre, and whether it still deserves the huge subsidies that it still receives, and that only benefit the privileged few who have access to it.
We must, however, think deeply about the causes that keep spectators away from certain types of art. It would be the best way to bring these types of art back to life.
It seems to me that the common point between all these forgotten arts is that all of it refers to, whether directly or indirectly, crafts. Indeed, in order to engage with these art forms, we need technical skills that cannot be acquired without a great deal of work: we can create films, abstract paintings, photography, and many new types of art without years of study. Some very great artists have demonstrated this and continue to do so every day. You can even be an excellent jazz pianist without ten years of training.
But it is impossible to be a great pianist, violinist, flutist, or classical dancer without twenty years of preparation; and we should not be disillusioned by the child prodigies that we see on television shows, even if it is pleasant to see: most of these teenagers have been working since the age of three; and many will disappear into the shadows and pitfalls of fame that came too early.
Having recently worked quite a bit these days with classical musicians and opera singers, I can testify to the immensity of their commitment to their work: who else would practice, alone, six to ten hours a day?
To be sure, there are successful attempts to attract younger generations to the opera (including “the Opera Factory, which I mentioned here last year). It shows that nothing is lost when you find the right path to the hearts of the spectators. And this path passes, precisely, through the rediscovery of the pleasure of learning, perfecting oneself, and working hard. And not to be content to be a shooting star in the sky for a temporary art.
In this respect, the forgotten arts undoubtedly refer us to, beyond art itself, the importance of effort, stubbornness, timing, learning, humility, effort and a sense of perfection – these are all of the things that our societies try to set aside, so much that they encourage us to have only a brief attention span, on easy and constantly renewed subjects. These qualities are necessary for an artist to have a long career. Such qualities are also necessary also for all human beings, so as not to waste the talents that everyone received when they were born.