Since the prehistoric cave paintings where the human form was first represented in places like Altamira in Spain, we have all yearned to be remembered, to be seen, and artists have been our only access to immortality, representing us to those who would come after. Social media and selfies have reduced “being seen” to utter banality, but there was a time when only the painter could be counted on to capture the human spirit in visual form. They were the rockstars of their eras and we humans, like pilgrims, would come from miles away to see ourselves reflected back, to see our fleeting presence on earth made immortal. We craved and still crave their vision.
This is the purpose of all art, whether theatre, music, dance, painting, novels, or poetry: to give us a clue into our own nature. Blinded as we are by being buried in the moment-to-moment lives we live, art is essential and we must protect it, defend it, nurture it, and support it. In times like these, so much emphasis is placed on the bottom line and on winning, and statistics are called upon to tell us what to do, think, and feel. When a government is perpetually ready to shut down support for the arts and when the money is pulled from arts programs in schools, I am reminded of when Winston Churchill was asked why he wouldn’t cut support for the arts to promote the war effort. He replied, “I do it, sir, to remind us what we are fighting for.”
Georges Seurat invented a new way of seeing. His fascination with the science of color led him to use techniques which could deconstruct and recombine reality into a powerful perspective that exploded the art world. His work was so revolutionary and it so angered the established art world that his work was completely suppressed. Despite his ability to see, he himself remained unseen, never getting a major exhibition. He never was part of the mainstream art movement of the time, nor did he ever sell a painting. We say, “How can that be?” It reminds us that we must support new voices, new perspectives, new visionaries, not only in the world of art, but in our own world of the theatre. Sunday in the Park with George is Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s love poem to artists, poets, painters, composers, and playwrights. It celebrates the voices that celebrate us, holding the artist up, saying, “We need you. We can’t live without you because you see us. You lift us up out of the muck of our ordinary lives and lead us to ourselves.”