“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it by not dying.”
— Woody Allen, producer, actor, filmmaker
Every successful individual — in the fields of politics, education business, arts and sciences — desires recognition. The scientist and inventor work intensely for the breakthrough “Eureka” formula to cure a disease, the “aha” gadget or tool that would make a lasting impact on the world. The sportsman wants to break the world records in racing speed, tennis, golf, tennis, and basketball and make it to the legendary Hall of Fame. The actor, director, producer, singer want global recognition by winning the Oscar at the Academy Awards in film, the Tony Award in theater, the Grammy in music, or the Emmy in television. The musician composes a song or symphony; the choreographer would create a dance, and a poet would write a sonnet; an artist would paint a mural or make a sculpture. All these creations express feelings and ideas with energy that would uplift the spirit.
There are other versions of legacy. Politicians use public infrastructure — airports, bridges, highways dams, town halls, cities, and monuments. Their faces and names are emblazoned on billboards, streamers and posters at the site. Although public funds are used, they claim credit for the project. It is a not so subtle hint, a reminder to potential voters. Name and face recall.
Endowment grants from private corporations are given to universities, schools for the buildings. The generous gesture is a way of honoring the illustrious alumni and benefactors. In some case, ego gratification is a motive of some wealthy businessmen who are not necessarily alumni. The name remains for posterity as stipulated in the grant.
Sometimes, the funds given are not sufficient so the school is obliged to continue the project and fulfill the contract with naming rights.
Sponsors for specific disciplines and research donate professorial chairs. This is a practical way to help the institution and support the dedicated professors who need adequate compensation. Other sponsors donate funds to support the sports programs and the teams that compete in the leagues.
Skyscrapers, elite clubs, and churches have plaques engraved with the name of founders and charter members.
Just about every street, road, highway, and lane is named after a hero, a famous individual, or a pseudo-celebrity who has the right connections and has donated substantial amount for a cause. (People can get lost because of too many new street names and incorrect signage. Unless one is adept at using Waze.)
There are special exceptions that deserve credit such as those distinguished aristocratic families who dominated the Renaissance period during the 15th century.
The famed Florentine Medici family of bankers and aristocrats were among the most distinguished art patrons and benefactors. Many centuries later Florence is still a center of arts. Every piazza, church and open space is filed with precious artworks, public monuments and private sculptures, frescoes and paintings. The Uffizi Gallery holds a vast treasure of paintings by the masters — Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raffaello — of the era. Tourists and cultural buffs can study and appreciate the wonders of the Duomo Cathedral, David by Michelangelo, and the bronze Basptistry doors of Bernini.
Every Italian city state — Venice, Milan, and the center of the world, Rome — has artworks so grand and impressive. The Vatican has the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s breathtaking murals — Genesis and The Last Judgment. The Basilica di San Pietro is magnificent with the colonnade of Bernini
The emperors, kings, and rulers such as the Sforza and Borgia families (including the Pope), and the Church financed all the best monuments and sculptures — La Pieta and Moses are immortal.
It was the collective vision of the patrons to reserve the artistic spirit of the era for the future generations. Behind every grand gesture was the egotistic desire to perpetuate themselves as great cultural and historical icons.
Ask any artist in the various disciplines what would be his/her legacy. The reply would be his/her painting, sculpture, composition, book, play, poem, public art, museum, garden, park, and building.
The spirit of creative genius is in every work. It could be a brief, ephemeral, one-day art installation of floating flag banners and leaves in Central Park, a timeless Japanese bridge and Zen garden or temple in Kyoto, a quaint wisteria trellis in the forest, a lifelike bronze sculpture on a park bench in Marbella, or a colorful mobile fountain, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the bamboo organ in Las Piñas, or a film documentary with an amazing art installation (at the Art Fair).
An artwork is a child of the spirit. The artist is mortal but art is immortal.
February is National Arts Month. It is a joyful celebration with vibrant cultural events — the annual Art Fair, the group shows and exhibitions, solo retrospectives, auctions, concerts, ballet and theater performances, book launches — for all artists and art lovers.
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.