“Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. He was considered an evildoer who had dealt with a demon mankind dreaded. But thereafter men had fire to keep them warm, to cook their food, to light their caves. Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads. Their step was first, the road new and the response they received – hatred. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead.” These are words spoken by Howard Roark, the uncompromising architect in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. He mirrors Prometheus, who was the first to bring fire to the people and was terribly punished for it. A story that has become a myth that also appeals to the imagination after thousands of years.
Stories like this give us an identity as an individual, as an individual in a society and as a society. In order to understand our existence and give it meaning, we need them. Even mythical stories from ancient times can express our present self-image, our present identity. Who is the hated Prometheus of our time, who is the visionary? In our time, this seems to be not only the scientist who confronts us with hard facts about the consequences of our consumer behaviour, but also the artist.
Some time ago I was in Epidaurus, where the oldest theatre in the world is located. It’s an outdoor theatre where more than ten thousand people have attended theatre performances since the fourth century B.C. We played Elektra and Orestes by Euripides. For two hours, the audience of a thousand people was watching two plays that in my interpretation are about the violent radicalisation of young people. They recognised problems from the ancient Greek stories, that are happening all over the world today. An overwhelming feeling of togetherness arose. The performance mattered. Why is that? Because we as human beings need to belong somewhere. Myths give us characters in which we recognise ourselves, in which we recognise what is going on in our relationships, our families, our villages, our cities, our countries, our world. These stories are there for everyone. They provide insight into the great flows of life. They have the power of delayed reaction. They don’t reflect on current events, they’re not political. They mirror their urgency to an ever-changing reality. Stories are not objective facts, they can be interpreted in different ways. They can steer and change a society. A story offers a subjective, not an absolute, truth. The artist is a sounding board for mankind, society, humanity and we can shape our existence, our future over and over again. That is why there has always been art. That’s why we can’t do without art.