What pieces of our modern art and literature will outlive the creator’s name? Two thousand years from now will no one know the name “Picasso”, but still immediately recognize his angular shapes and contrasting bright colors? What will be the next Unicorn Tapestry or Fragment of the Face of a Queen?
Of course, a few hundred years go, artists and writers roles in society were not so full of glitter and glamor. They were commissioned to create portraits of wealthy merchants, to carve statues of dead, ancient gods in marble…to pen an allegoric poem of morals for the church. Artists and writers still are put to these sorts of tasks today, but we make sure that our name is blazoned somewhere in the credits. We worked hard. We refuse to remain anonymous or to allow someone else to take credit for our toil.
But still, as time passes and as our songs, paintings, photographs, novels, and poems fall almost mercilessly into public domain, sooner or later our names will fall off of our work and the work alone will survive.Maybe we should create everything as if our names did not depend on it. Just make something that will endure time and culture and death. Every single last brushstroke and word made to last.
So tell me, do you have a favorite piece of art, literature, or song whose creator is “Unknown” or “Anonymous”? I have mentioned two of mine above, but I also must include The Death of the Buddha. Maybe because I don’t know their names I can make up stories of my own about the creators, as Tracy Chevalier did with The Lady and the Unicorn. The Death of the Buddha, a hanging scroll made of silk, might have been created by a group of monks in the Kamakura period, or it could have been created by Ryōzen during that same time. Part of the beauty is in the mystery. Literature has less ready sources of Anonymous creation: Beowolf is perhaps the most well-known of the unknowns.
If you have a favorite, I’d love it if you’d share it.