Review of Freemasonry
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by W.Bro. Richard Num
Leonardo da Vinci Lodge No. 238, Adelaide, South Australia
Grand Lodge of South Australia & Northern Territory.
Past President of the Australian and New Zealand Masonic Research Council 2002-2004.
This article was first published in “Harashim”, October 2004, issue 32, p. 12, the quarterly magazine of the Australian and New Zealand Masonic Research Council.

Have 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 performing arts.


The 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].


The 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.


I 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".


It 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.


Recently 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

"Seldes 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 culture." [iii]


In 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.


The seven lively arts are also featured in Canada's largest mural, in the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts[iv] in Toronto.


What 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 Hell". [v]


Freemasonry 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.


If 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.


The 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.




[ii] the book may be read online commencing at

[iii] see

[v] about the Jack the Ripper case – see



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