I particularly appreciated a paragraph I read in today in May Alcott A Memoir by Caroline Ticknor where she summarized May’s true contribution to the art world. Here’s what she said: (page 225-226)
“These slender links that bind May Alcott to the little group [in Grez, a small French village that proved to be a mecca for artists] that was to create in America an era of art are well worthy of preservation, for she shared in a dream that all the others of that group determined “should come true.” She was not destined to aid it as extensively as many, but from the first her heart was with them, and by her influence more than by her creative work she helped to bring about results for which we should be truly grateful. The Concord Art Center, which she established; the lump of clay that she gave to Daniel Chester French; the classes that she taught; her little book [How to Study Art Abroad, and Do it Cheaply, available on GoogleBooks], instructing young art students regarding life and opportunities abroad; and lastly her own excellent productions which, had she lived, might have fulfilled those high hopes cherished by her family, and by herself — all contributed to our national heritage in the art world.”
I remember a couple of scenes from the movie Amadeus where an aged, and insane, Antonio Salieri said these lines:
“All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing… and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn’t want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?”
“You choose for Your instrument a boastful, lustful, smutty, infantile boy and give me for reward only the ability to recognize the incarnation.”
Now granted, Salieri was literally insane with jealousy (and who knows how much of this was actually true) but these lines really resonated with me because I felt sorry that Salieri could not appreciate that he could see what apparently no one else could – the genius that was Mozart. He could not be happy with helping to make great things happen without necessarily attaining the glory for himself.
Although May wanted the glory too, she also was happy to “make things happen” for others, and she enjoyed seeing the great potential for artistic talent. If she had not been a mentor to Daniel Chester French, there might have been no Lincoln Memorial. If she hadn’t started the art school in Concord, countless local artists might never have realized their vocations. She not only enjoyed creating art, she enjoying sharing her joy of art with others. That was her true gift.
I can really relate to this in my music career. I sometimes felt like Salieri in that I lacked the talent to be a really great singer and songwriter, thought it was a “lust in my body” as well. But more like May, I loved making things happen for others whom I thought were really great. I belonged to a very small artist community, fellow Catholics who make music to praise God and share Him with others. The bulk of my time in this community was spent promoting other artists and making connections for them through a magazine I published online called GrapeVine. I did this work for 10 years and enjoyed it immensely, and I hope it helped those I wanted to help. It was a joy in my life.
Caroline Ticknor was right. May’s contribution may not have been the glory she ultimately sought, but without her, we would have been denied some truly great art. That’s a life well lived!