Study Guide

Andersen's Fairy Tales Art and Culture

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Art and Culture

"You poets are so happy and free. You can fly wherever you want to; the rest of us have a chain around our ankles." "True," the poet replied. "But the other end of that chain is fastened to a breadbox. You don't have to worry about tomorrow; and when you grow old you'll have a pension." (The Magic Galoshes.125-126)

Ah yes, the age-old artist vs. 9-5er debate. Artists can do whatever they want, whenever they want, and not worry about showing up to a regular job, while people holding down so-called normal jobs have a regular paycheck coming in. But maybe, in our times, this is no longer an "either/or" choice? We think there are some pretty rad, wage-winning job opportunities out there these days…

"You have rewarded me already," said the nightingale. "I shall never forget that, the first time I sang for you, you gave me the tears from your eyes; and to a poet's heart, those are jewels." (The Nightingale.70)

Please, don't repay us with your tears. Unless they are tears resulting from laughing to hard. Otherwise, read a darn book. But, we get where the nightingale is coming from: some days, a little appreciation for your work can be all the payment you need.

"You are a splendid person, a practical man, but you have no more idea of what poetry is than that old barrel over there." (The Pixy and the Grocer.4)

Hm. Are practicality and artsiness always opposed? We here at Shmoop say: do all the things!

Humanity! Can you understand the bliss in such a moment, when your spirit, your art, knows its mission? The moment when all the pain endured along the thorny path—even that self-inflicted—becomes knowledge, truth, power, clearness, and health? (The Thorny Path.23)

If you dedicate your life to pursue art or knowledge, you may be in for a world of pain. Think of that relative that's always telling you to "quit doodling" and "do something useful!" Still, you've gotta do what's in your heart.

But all too often he saw ugliness receive the praise that should have been given to beauty. The good was hardly noticed, while mediocrity was applauded instead of being criticized. (The Philosopher's Stone.18)

Clearly Andersen's not bitter about this issue or anything. While he was trying to establish himself in the art world, he, too, faced criticism for art that he poured his soul into. Clearly, we're reading his stuff now, though, so maybe the lesson here is: don't give up!

"What about something to eat? Is there anything more important than eating? A dead musician more or less doesn't matter. There are plenty more where he came from." (In the Duckyard.54)

The dead musician in this quote is actually a songbird, which a duck had killed in this story, but it's the same idea: there are a lot of wannabe artists out there who never make much of themselves. But a life without any music would be pretty miserable, we're guessing. How else could you possibly annoy your siblings on long road trips? That license plate game gets real old, real fast.

Here lived a young artist who was poor and unknown. But he had friends—other artists with the hopes and ideals of youth—who told him that he had great talent and skill and that he was a fool for doubting it. The young artist was never satisfied with his work. (Psyche.3)

This artist (like Andersen himself) feels like he has something to contribute to the world. And he does, in fact, end up making an awe-inspiring statue of Psyche. Do you think that every artist feels like he or she has a mission to make art that people will consume? Or do some artists create simply because they enjoy the process of making things?

It was as though his instrument were a human voice of such purity and beauty that all who heard it felt the ecstasy of art. His name flew from country to country, it spread like fire, the fire of enthusiasm! (The Golden Treasure.73)

This musician is apparently pretty hot stuff. If just listening to his music fills audiences with "the ecstasy of art," then yeah, we'd agree that he has a marketable skill.

Inside the farmhouse lived two young students: one was a poet, the other a scientist. One sang and wrote joyfully about everything God had created that mirrored itself in his heart. He sang about it in brief powerful verses. (The Toad.37)

Andersen loves these artist types whose work is all about the glory of God. It's almost as though he thinks that's the purpose of art: to praise God and all of creation. What do you think?

There was once a young man who was studying to be an author, and he wanted to become one before Easter; then he would marry and live by his pen. It would be easy, if only he could find something to write about, but no ideas ever came to him. He had been born too late; everything had been thought about and written down before he came into the world. (A Question of Imagination.1)

Man, it must be hard to want to be an artist when everything under the sun has already been invented, painted, and written about. How do artists these days do it? Especially today, when the Internet puts endless amounts of information (and adorable gifs) at your fingertips.

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