Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Brushing up.

"Precisely what, then, is at issue in this question of luxury? To know whether it is more important for empires to be brilliant and fleeting, or virtuaous and long-lasting. I say brilliant, but by what luster? The taste for ostentation is hardly ever combined in the same souls with the taste for honesty. No, it is not possible for minds degraded by a multitude of futile needs ever to rise to anything great; and even if they had the strength, they would lack the courage.

Every artist wants to be applauded. The praises of his contemporaries are the most precious part of his reward. What then will he do to obtain praise, if he has the misfortune to be born among a people and at a time when learned men, having become fashionable, have place a frivolous youth in a position to set the tone; when men have sacrificed their taste to the tyrants of liberty... What will he do, gentlemen? He will lower his genius to the level of his century, and will prefer to compse popular works which are admired during his lifetime instead of marvels which would not be admired until long after his death...

In this way the dissolution of mores, a necessary consequence of luxury, leads in turn to the corruption of taste. If perchance there is, among men of extraordinary talents, someone who has firmness of soul and who refuses to yield to the genius of his century and the degrade himself by childish productions, woe to him! He will die in poverty and oblivion."

~Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts.

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