You hear the term "Renaissance man" bandied about every now and then, and lately I've been wondering about it. Sometimes people who get to know Tamra and I and find out we are both visual artists as well as actors, are kind enough to suggest that we are renaissance people. It's very gratifying thing to hear, but I always feel a little uncomfortable about it, as if the speaker had just compared me favorably with Leonardo Da Vinci or some other indisputably acknowledged super-genius. (After all, I only got a "C" in architectural drafting at Portola Jr. High, and my handwriting is illegible even when written right handed.)
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that probably more people than one would suspect have earned the title of "Renaissance man" or "Renaissance woman", and that maybe it isn't solely the province of old Italians with long beards and shiny bald heads.
The word "Renaissance" of course comes from the french for "Rebirth", and has come to mean a very high level of artistic creation after a fallow or oppressive period. To me, the word basically describes a very high-spirited activity of injecting life into the everyday, boring environment, such as through the arts or other channel. This seems to me to be the big secret: that this is what human beings do all the time, especially when they are being themselves.
Anybody working to create a business or any aspect of their job is an artist, to some degree, even if they are just working the late shift at Kinko's. A mother is an artist, bringing life to a family by raising the children and making a safe world for them to live in. You, right now are perhaps hoping that I did my job well and are providing you with a moment's respite from a tedious day, a day in which you are engaged in bringing order to the chaos of your existence. Even if that just means you are filing a mountain of papers from before Y2K. You still are creating order, and that is what artists have done since the cave days.
Human beings aren't objects, after all. If we all didn't create space and energy in this world, it would come to a big, grinding halt. We are every one of us Renaissance folks, engaged in the daily activity of "rebirthing", if you will, the stale and stolid world around us, so that we can have some fun.
Maybe you and I and Leonardo do have more in common than one would immediately suppose. I'll tell you one thing, he'd definitely be totally lost in a Kinkos, and you'd have to show him how to do practically everything. Who'd look like the super-genius then?
* Chistopher Smith teaches improv workshops in L.A. Contact him at (818) 980-5281, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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NEW YORKERS, LOVERS OF MANKIND (Fall 1999)
THE ART CURE (Summer 1999)
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