Man's Magnum Opus. What is the greatest work of art in any medium?

Reply Tue 11 May, 2010 06:05 pm
coluber2001 wrote:

"Probably Romeo and Juliette." As danced by Margot Fontaine and Rudolph Nureyev with the Royal ballet in Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet."

I saw them dance this at Lincoln Center. Brilliant. Touching. Glorious. Dame Margot had seen better days, but her grace and presence counteracted the bit of creak in her steps.

Nureyev. Breathtaking. Thinking back to him flying across the stage and smiling.
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Reply Tue 22 Jun, 2010 01:53 pm
I find it impossible to select a "best" work of art in any absolute sense. It seems to me that virtuallly any great work when performed/interpreted well or presented to me when I'm in the proper mood can SEEM to be the greatest --in the sense of unsurpassable--work possible. At other times it may not get much of a response from me either because of the quality of its performance or because I am not properly responsive/creative at that moment.
BTW A2Kers are impressing me with their sophistication in this thread.
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Reply Tue 22 Jun, 2010 02:40 pm

Sonnet 29 "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes"

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least:
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,--and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings'.

Reply Thu 3 Feb, 2011 06:45 pm
Guy de Maupassant: Contes et Nouvelles
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2011 12:21 pm
My all-time favourite for a discreet way of telling a lady that she fakes it. He was explaining in a letter to Ellen Terry that she was not a "slave to love".

You would not delight in it so if it were not entirely subject to your will, if the abandonment were real abandonment, instead of voluntary, artistic, willed (and therefore revocable) rapture.

What delightful delicacy.
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Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2011 12:23 pm
I think Shakespeare would have changed places with a king as fast as a rabbit bolts down its hole with a dog after it.
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Reply Sun 27 Feb, 2011 10:13 pm
I would put Bethoven's 9th symphony up there against anything.

That would be exceedingly hard to argue with.
Reply Mon 28 Feb, 2011 06:08 am
What!!?? Against double-entry book-keeping and the mathematics of infinite, dynamic space?
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Reply Mon 28 Feb, 2011 07:54 am
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:

The Rape of Proserpina
Gian Lorenzo Bernini

I have not seen that before. It really is incredible to believe that was carved from stone. Do people still create art like this anymore?
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Reply Mon 28 Feb, 2011 10:11 am
I think the marriage of this voice and these two songs is an unsurpassed work of evocative, vocal art:
Mahalia Jackson singing Summertime and Sometimes I feel Like a Motherless Child

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Reply Tue 22 Mar, 2011 05:39 am
I am drawn to Hermann Hesse' "Siddhartha".


In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the
boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is
where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young
falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun
tanned his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing,
performing the sacred ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango
grove, shade poured into his black eyes, when playing as a boy, when
his mother sang, when the sacred offerings were made, when his father,
the scholar, taught him, when the wise men talked. For a long time,
Siddhartha had been partaking in the discussions of the wise men,
practising debate with Govinda, practising with Govinda the art of
reflection, the service of meditation. He already knew how to speak the
Om silently, the word of words, to speak it silently into himself while
inhaling, to speak it silently out of himself while exhaling, with all
the concentration of his soul, the forehead surrounded by the glow of
the clear-thinking spirit. He already knew to feel Atman in the depths
of his being, indestructible, one with the universe.

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Reply Tue 11 Oct, 2011 04:34 pm

Debatable. They're theory; they can therefore be proven wrong. If they are, then they couldn't possibly have been "discovered" in the first place. Furthermore, the application of math to explain our universe is using a language of sorts to fit intangible concepts into something concrete. Just because it seems there are less variables to sort through doesn't make math any less of a creative and inspiration driven process.

Why should there be an aesthetic difference between Einstein's theory of relativity and Plato's republic? They are both products of inventive reasoning and logic.

I wouldn't leave out Emily Dickenson's "discovery" of the perfect lyrical algorithm to describe her own anonymity in "I'm Nobody" anymore than I would exclude Pythagoras's poetry of logic in his theory of triangles.
Reply Tue 11 Oct, 2011 04:47 pm
If you think 1+1=2 as art, let me know so I won't bother buying a ticket or worse a membership and forgo attending any and all art exhibits at your alleged Theoretical ART museum.

And remember that is what this thread is about, the greatest work of art in any medium rather then the philosophy of science and math though physical manifestations of science and math WILL and HAVE made great art woke.
Reply Tue 11 Oct, 2011 05:47 pm
I don't think any of us are really in a position to define what art is for the rest of humanity. This is all I'm pointing out.
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Reply Tue 11 Oct, 2011 05:59 pm
@Robert Gentel,

The Moon Landing ?
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Reply Tue 11 Oct, 2011 06:01 pm
I would nominate "The Book of Kells".

It's an amazing book written and drawn by the monks of Ireland, I believe in the 12th century. I'm not attracted to it's religious message but rather to the intricate beauty of it's art and calligraphy. I also have to admire the fortitude and faith of the monks that created it, a true labour of love.


Reply Mon 30 Jul, 2012 03:42 am
TS Eliot's Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. Its meaning is elusive (even he says, "It is impossible to say just what I mean!"). You kind of get it, then don't. And then you realise that's the point. It mirrors human life. Eliot also alludes to so many other works of art that you kind of get a two for the price of one offer by nominating him in a discussion such as this.

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats 5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…. 10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, 15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes; 25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate; 30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go 35
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— 40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare 45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all— 55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? 60
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress 65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . . . . .

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets 70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . . . . .

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! 75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? 80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, 85
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while, 90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”— 95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while, 100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: 105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
. . . . . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use, 115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old … 120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me. 125

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown 130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

I also think that there are some genuinely sublime moments in the (wait for it...) Beatles albums post 1966ish. Sorry to go a bit pop, but it is genuinely impressive to me how far that band managed to stretch the medium they worked in (something as banal as pop music). Bear in mind that Justin Bieber also "works" in this medium yet the two are clearly incomparable.


For sheer impact and history-altering consequences - Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Like all of the greatest works or thought and art, its beauty is in its utter simplicity. How did no-one think that sooner? Well written for a science book too.

Here is the famous last paragraph:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse: a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

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Reply Sun 7 Jul, 2013 06:05 pm
what did you pay for your print? i bought on just like it today for $7
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Crazy Horse Lady
Reply Mon 11 May, 2015 10:37 am
I totally agree. Although I haven't seen it in person, Michaelangelo's David and his Pieta are two of my all time favorite works of art. I'd have to give a nod to Bernini also, for his incredible "Ecstasy of St. Theresa".
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Reply Tue 12 May, 2015 06:15 pm
Since everything they did was so great, it's impossible to limit it to one particular work, so I'll just drop a few names, eh?

Literature: Chuck Bukowski
Music: Robert Johnson
Art: R. Crumb.
Cinema: The Little Rascals
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