Masters and Sorcerers’ Apprentices
Senex puerum portabat, puer autem senem regebat: the old man carried the child, but the child ruled the old man. In the song of this gradual, the wisdom of the Church delineates a situation that is difficult to understand, yet mysteriously real: like the parturition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We can take it for granted that an old man should carry a child – it is only natural. But that a child should rule over an old man is unheard of and perhaps even a little scandalous, in a society that is supposed to be modern and democratic, but that, all things considered, is still desperately attached to its age-old privileges. Yet this twofold dynamic is the order of the day: it is the Master to lead the pupil into the secret gardens of art, but it is the pupil who will guild the Master towards contemporary taste and technique. The Old Masters described by Thomas Bernhard in his book were certainly great artists, but none of them was without faults, ingenuity or even errors that in the end debased their work, at least in the eyes of the author. More than Old Masters, they are Masters destroyed
by their own time. On the contrary, Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (a ballade from which Paul Dukas drew a symphonic poem immortalized by Mickey Mouse in the film Fantasia), demonstrates all of the limits and errors that the young protégé incurs when he takes possession of tools that he does not know how to handle, and that rebel against him because they do not recognize “the Master’s voice”. Americans have funny names to designate those who occupy positions of power and those who try to undermine the role: Queen Bees, who rule the hive, and Wanna-Bees, or (literally, and exploiting the play on words) those who “want to be (e)”. The Queen Bees, mighty in status and power, seclude themselves in a ritual that becomes more and more exhausting and they lose touch with reality. The Wanna-Bees scurry about in thousands of tasks in order to stand out, to make it, to overcome obstacles that prevent them from achieving fame, and since they are always and in any event against the establishment, they become resentful and unhappy. Thus it is to the
wisdom of the Church that we must look in order to trace out a relationship between pupil and Master, between ancient wisdom and to have a new look at things, which can allow savoir-faire to be disseminated and the intelligence of the hand to be renewed: the old man carries the youth, supporting and nourishing him, but is it the youth who will rule the old man when there are changes in taste or perspective, or when an evolution occurs. An example that can be applied to the relationship between the great art masters and young sorcerers’ apprentices that are measuring themselves up against our times: an example that, as hinted at in the editorial, must also be understood by those who maintain that professional, artistic and technical instruction must always remain within the limits of plans for didactic development. Without the transmission of knowledge, there will no longer be pupils or masters, nor will there be those beautiful things that enrich the life that all of us lead, love and defend – each in his or her own way.
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