The Lost Art of Art
Written by Donald L Hughes, 2018
During a recent trip to San Simeon, California my family and I had the opportunity to tour the famous estate of William Randolph Hearst. As expected, the massive home and surrounding acreage was impressive and beautiful. From the grand entrance to the luxurious Neptune swimming pool, the estate was a massive expression of Hearst’s love for his boyhood home and family ranch. And perhaps more than that, his love of and passion for the things his mother showed him as a boy: culture and art.
I have visited and toured other massive homes, such as The Breakers (Vanderbilt Estate) in Rhode Island, and The Marble House and Miramar to name a few. And although these homes were also impressive, they were built for show and mainly to flaunt wealth. The difference for me with San Simeon was the personal roots of the estate, not only in terms of the land and its early founding as a working ranch, but also in the growth of William’s appreciation for art, and what art represents. Art is inseparable with culture, and one cannot and will not survive without the other.
To really understand our culture, and indeed the cultures of others, and the cultures of the past, one need only to look at the respective art. From oil paintings to tapestry, and hand-carved ceilings to chairs and tables, the artisans have given a part of themselves. Their hands have carefully moved along the canvass, or weaves of fabric, or edges of deep colored wood, and along with it have poured a part of their souls into their work. Somehow, that resonates throughout the home where such art is found. When created, the artist’s dream would have been to have their work displayed in such a way that Hearst was able to provide: walls and floors, rooms and ceilings in a living environment, to weather naturally like the artist themselves, growing old and full of character and value beyond monetary. To view a wooded beam from the 17th century, or a statue from ancient Egypt is to view the artist slowly carving, etching and smoothing its surface. And when surrounded by the structure of what becomes a home, a feeling of life and energy permeates from the art.
Contrast that to today’s world. Even the very wealthy, although financially able, have few if any resources as did Hearst on finding those types of hand-crafted works. Most items collected today are displayed in a controlled environment, put up for viewing but not a part of the fabric of the home. To see the art of San Simeon as an integral extension of the home and life of its owner, is to see it as it has always been intended to be seen. Like the whales and seals living just off the coast of the estate, to see the same in a controlled setting like a zoo or aquarium diminishes the soul, spirit and essence of those magnificent creatures. Standing on the shore, looking out and engaging all senses, from smell to touch, and seeing a whale’s spray out on the horizon is just what the artist wanted you to experience when viewing their masterpiece. You can’t get that in a museum, a wealthy man’s summer house, or a zoo. But in a home. A home where people live, love, laugh, cry and eat.
After touring San Simeon, it made me appreciate how the finer things in life are those things that reflect who I am, what I love and have a passion for. And to look for the lost art in even the smallest of places, not just the San Simeons of the world.