you heard of the Seven Lively Arts? I
had not until June 2004, when I visited the Union League Club of Chicago and saw
seven paintings, each depicting one of the "seven lively arts" -
architecture, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, music and literature.
Each lively art is a field of aesthetic endeavour in the plastic or
paintings which I saw depicting the seven lively arts were once displayed in a
Chicago restaurant. They were dispersed, but eventually a collector reassembled
the collection which may be seen online[i].
seven lively arts should not be confused with the seven liberal arts and
sciences, about which Freemasons receive some instruction - grammar, rhetoric,
logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.
These were known as the "liberal" arts as proficiency in them
was thought to liberate the mind. For example, a study of geometry was thought
to liberate and lead one from contemplating the material world to the cosmos,
and thence to the Deity.
had not heard the expression the "seven lively arts" before seeing the
paintings in Chicago. Occasionally they have also been known as the "seven
major arts", but I do prefer the dynamism and energy which is
associated with the word "lively".
seems the expression may have been first used in the title of a book written in
1924 by Gilbert Seldes, entitled "The Seven Lively Arts"[ii],
in which the author wrote an account and defence of American Popular Arts -
film, popular music and dance, musical comedy, cartoons, and popular fiction.
Henry Jenkins, a Professor of Literature and Comparative Media Studies at
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued that electronic games are an
emerging "lively art". He states
wanted his book to serve two purposes: first, he wanted to give readers fresh
ways of thinking about and engaging with the contents of popular art; second, he
wanted to use the vitality and innovation of these emerging forms to challenge
the "monotonous stupidity," "the ridiculous postures" and
"stained glass attitudes" of what we might now call Middle Brow
1944 "Seven Lively Arts" was used as the title of a musical revue,
with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and ballet music by Igor Stravinsky. The
revue played at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City for 183 performances from
December 7, 1944. The artist Dali created illustrations of the seven lively arts
for the theatre foyer.
seven lively arts are also featured in Canada's largest mural, in the
Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts[iv]
does this have to do with Freemasonry? Well, in the past some creative artists
drew upon the ideals of Freemasonry. Thus Freemasonry features in the drama of
the opera "The Magic Flute", and in Masonic music composed by Mozart,
Sibelius and others. Some sculptors have used Masonic themes as a source of
artistic inspiration. Literature has examples of the use of Freemasonry, perhaps
the most interesting being in Tolstoy's "War and Peace". But these are
examples from one to two hundred years ago. These days drama is employed to
effect in ceremonies by good ritualists, but Freemasonry
tends to be used in modern mass drama only in a debased form, as a museum piece
or a sinister conspiracy, as, for example, in the recent movie "From
has become a conservative social institution. Its leaders and members are likely
to be suspicious of the avant guard who tend to monopolise the more highbrow
areas of the seven lively arts. Consequently Freemasonry has tended to ignore
and neglect the seven lively arts, thereby losing touch with much of the
original vitality and taproots of meaning and creativity possessed by members of
the fraternity in the 1700's.
Freemasonry is to recover its intellectual and creative vibrancy and expound its
purpose in terms that are comprehensible and relevant to modern society, perhaps
it can best do so by expression of its ideals through the seven lively arts. How
this might be achieved by present day Freemasonry is a major challenge.
seven lively arts of architecture, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, music and
literature are important constituents of each human culture. They may challenge
us, but also help to bring meaning to our lives. Freemasonry would be enlivened
if it could attract and act as a source of inspiration for exponents of the
seven lively arts.