I have a trip to Florence planned for this Fall so I am reading about the Renaissance. Looking into how it actually started, a number of things occur to me.
Firstly, that it’s possible to have your own personal renaissance. Secondly, that this is probably a really good thing to do. And thirdly, that global economic conditions for a personal renaissance have never been better in your entire lifetime.
So read on!
One day soon, you too could have your own bird in a hat and some puffy shorts that attract small dogs.
How These Things Begin
The proper Renaissance was very much a ‘right place, wrong time’ kind of deal… Much like our modern world is today. See if this sounds familiar.
Italy was struggling to come to terms from the biggest global disaster in the history of European civilisation: The Black Death. For some reason that doesn’t particularly help Italian stereotypes, they were especially hard hit by the plague.
Anyway, so this disaster motivated leading thinkers to focus more on the here and now -authentic human living- rather than braying on like utter morons about the Afterlife. The value of human life had changed because it seemed so fragile and brief.
Now what really kicked the Renaissance into overdrive in Florence in particular was the rise of the Medici family. You can click on the wikipedia link if you like but suffice to say they invented modern banking and even coined the term ‘bank’ but possibly not the term ‘coined’ (although that would be awesome).
This naturally made them extremely wealthy and powerful -perhaps more wealthy than was safe for the souls of good Catholic boys. Which was one of the many reasons they started paying for statues and what have you to be put up all over their home town.
So we have (among other factors)
- A fragile recovery from a global disaster that leads people to reassess their priorities in life.
- A certain ‘wealth guilt’ changing the face of local economies (which we are seeing in London right now).
- One of the greatest flourishings of art and -more importantly- science in European civilisation.
- The rise of an idea; that a modern man (sorry ladies, but I’m being historically accurate in this bit. Today you are included) should not be defined by trade alone, but should develop expertise in all facets of life if he is to be fully rounded and complete.
To put it another way: we are none of us long for this world so we might as well be awesome at a whole bunch of things.
Making It About Me
I literally do not personally know a single other person who has been more ‘right place, wrong time’ during this most recent global disaster than me. If you follow this blog you know this to be true. Redundancies, exchange rate collapses… You fucking name it.
I am flea-ridden, rat infested Italy at the height of the Plague.
I am also two other things:
- Temporarily financially secure while job hunting thanks to some brilliant insurance coverage in one of the world’s leading centres of learning and culture.
- A massive nerd.
So here’s what a ‘Personal Renaissance’ looks like in five easy-to-follow steps:
You need to learn another language. I would suggest building on one you started at school but dropped out of because it’s easier to build on a flimsy base so you don’t get too discouraged.
Either that, or pick one that you have some chance of using in the next 18 months -perhaps you’re planning a holiday somewhere?
For me this is French (from school) and Italian because I’m going to Florence. Honestly, this is so unbelievably easy. I bought a couple of ‘intermediate’ courses from a discount bookstore. This is really all you need to do. It’s supposed to be ‘fun learning’… You’re not running for parliament in a foreign country. (Although I will have to check that buying the Italian kit didn’t automatically qualify me for a senior government post. This is Italy, we’re talking about.)
And if you’re just too fat/lazy to go to a discount bookstore, there are plenty of cheap online courses as well. But I like having the books and CDs. If only to stare at their unopened boxes as unquestionable proof of my new intellectual superiority.
2. A New Discipline
The Renaissance was a time of both art and science, so you need to learn something useful as well as fun; a ‘proper’ discipline or skill. I was tempted to count ‘cooking’ as my new discipline but that would be disingenuous as it is also my most enduring hobby/obsession.
You, however, may choose something cooking related. Remember though, it has to be a discipline. So, ‘cooking’ is out but ‘pasta making’ or ‘baking’ or ‘jam making’ is in. Be specific and -preferably- be weird.
I’m going with probability and statistics. That’s because The Drunkard’s Walk changed my life more than any other book I have read in years. If you buy this book you can count that as your discipline. I am that serious about getting the world to read this book.
Here’s a handy link to some free online courses if you want to be all official about your discipline like me.
What defined the Renaissance more than anything else was a very rose-tinted view of Classical Civilisation. In fact, they were trying to replicate the perceived glories of this age in Florence (hence all the statues).
You don’t have to be rose-tinted about it, but learning some history is definitely mandatory.
Pick something new. This is supremely easy as ‘popular history’ is one of the best selling non-fiction book categories at the moment.
Yes, I am telling you that buying (and READING) another book qualifies you for a Personal Renaissance Credit (PRC) as long as you take ONE other real-life step to cement it. The easiest being a visit to a travelling museum exhibition. So do a bit of a search and see what’s going to be on in your area then buy a book that is loosely related to that topic.
I don’t need to tell you that mine is the Renaissance, do I?
Other popular/easy categories include:
- The Victorians
- Elizabeth I
- British Raj
- Anything China
You can, of course, be a traditionalist about this and go with the Greco-Roman world, but in that case I’m going to have to be picky and say it needs to be something specific, like ‘The role of Women in Ancient Rome’ or ‘The Impact of Plato on early Christian thinking’.
4. Keep Good Company
This is a whole lot easier if you live in London and supremely easy if you happen to know Tan (pictured) but keeping good company is a mandatory requirement.
You see, all these scientists and artists and bankers would hang around together in Florence, being all Renaissancy.
Hopefully, you have aspirational middle class friends like I do, but regardless, to get your PRC for this point you have to have at least three ‘lofty’ discussions about something or attend one free discussion somewhere like the LSE. (Which is what I am going to do because I don’t see Tan nearly enough.)
There’s nothing like visiting an art supply store to simultaneously remind me how jealous I am of those with artistic abilities and how truly awful my own skills actually are.
And yet, I just cannot pass one by without going in and trying to invent a reason why I need to buy yet another ‘artist’s notepad’.
In fact, it was just such an experience two days ago that gave birth to the idea of a Personal Renaissance. There I was, half a block from the National Portrait Gallery, rummaging through a ‘Closing Down, 75% Off’ sale in an art supply store. (“Oh God, these paints are so cheap! I really wish I could fucking paint!”)
Standing up the back, in front of all the artist’s notepads, (“this one comes with a selection of B pencils. That would probably be handy… For someone else”) it occurs to me that I am in a really lucky situation. I have all this time between job hunts and interviews to pick up new skills and otherwise improve my life… Maybe I could learn to draw.
No, that will literally never happen. It’s a skill I just don’t have. But I’m not entirely shit at writing. If I am in the mood for an “art for art’s sake” project, then it should really be a written one.
So that’s what I am going to do. And it’s what you are going to do. The rules are:
- Must be art for art’s sake.
- Must be a clearly defined project
Examples include novellas, one act plays, photographic series (lamp posts, industrial decay, etc) or -if you are a less shit person than me- an actual painting made of actual paints and an actual canvas.
The thing about the Renaissance (but not blog posts about it) is that it ended. You have to be specific and bookend this project with an end date. It might be your birthday, it might be an overseas trip but it must end.
Mine is naturally going to conclude when I find some more gainful employment. I quite like the idea of having an unknown yet defined conclusion for this project. I only hope that I’m not up late the night before it is due finishing off my Renaissance because I’d like to be fresh for my first day of work.
Plus it’s probably best to let any potential new work mates get to know me before letting them know I occasionally enact entire historical periods all on my own. But for those of you who already know me:
Ladies and gentlemen, puff up those shorts! It’s Renaissance time.