The Relation of Artists to their Societies


The relation of artists to the society is always complicated, and as discussed in the story The Sculptor’s Funeral by Willa Cather, it is clearly evident, that Merrick had been alienated from his own society. Due to the reception which Merrick’s dead body received at his home, it was evident, that he had been alienated from his society. Similarly, other artists all over the world, have also suffered the same fate, where they are alienated from their own society or they alienated themselves, without the actual reason of such happenings, being known. Due to that reason, this paper will focus on the Cather’s view of Merrick, who was somehow alienated from his society, before moving forward to look at the lives of the artist Mozart, and finally, analyzing the relation of Mozart to other cultures for instance, China and India.

Harvey Merrick, the sculptor, was considered a failure in his home town by the people who lived and new him while he was still in Kansas, before he left for the East. In Kansas, Merrick was considered a failure, because he was not driven by the need for more money, or otherwise, he did not have the urge of getting rich and being wealthy. As a teacher and a Sculptor, he lacked interest in the pursuit of material wealth, a factor which did not add up according to the residents of Kansas. Kansas was majorly composed of people who were more than determined to make more money, thus becoming wealthy. This was however not the case with Merrick, since his main aim was to explore his talent as a sculptor.

The people Kansas were unreceptive, and so, they could not allow or see the need of being determined in other fields, other than being focused on gaining more, hence becoming wealthier. This consequently brings in the theme of close-mindedness in the story The Sculpture’s Funeral (Cather, 483). Merrick was not close-minded, a factor which made him to move from Kansas to the East, in pursuit of his dream of becoming an artist. He was not materialistic and greedy as compared to most people in Kansas, hence making him different, because he did not see things in the same way which the people of Kansas viewed them. Furthermore, he left the small town, due to its small mindedness, in order to advance his careers as a teacher and a sculptor.

Merrick’s actions and beliefs, made most people to dislike him, and the society in general to also dislike him. The people of Kansas believed heroes could only be made in Kansas, and no one was supposed to change his mind and do things differently according to the way Merrick did. Merrick was consequently considered as an outcast, basically because he could not think, reason, or even behave in a similar way as the people of his hometown (Kansas) did (Cather, 472). They did not therefore see the need of attending a funeral of a person whom they disliked, because he went against the dictates and behaviors of the people of Kansas.

Immediately after leaving Kansas for the east, he was considered an outcast, and could not therefore be respected or otherwise treated as a person from Kansas. In as much as Merrick had been alienated from his society, there were those who still believed in him, and also admired him. For instance, Jim Liard, the Lawyer, strongly believed Merrick, who had earlier on been his classmate. His students turned up at the train station, together with Jim Liard, who was drunk, and he was also in charge of the group. Steavens, is stunned when he sees a small group of people who do not resemble his master Merrick, who had turned up to receive the body at the train station (Cather, 474).

Steavens had worshipped his master Merrick, since he was Merrick’s apprentice. He believed in Merrick, and saw him as an epitome of a good artist. He did not understand the reason as to why the people of Kansas, as well as Merrick’s parents did not value him, and showed little to no appreciation when his body was brought at his parents’ home compound. Merrick’s mother, was saddened by the death of his son, and as usual she could not come to terms with the reality after Merrick’s body arrived at home. On the other hand, the number of mourners who had turned up for funeral was very low, and this had been majorly attributed to his move to pursue his own goals (Cather, 480). Amongst those who had attended the funeral ceremony, it was only Jim Liard, the lawyer, who was able to eulogize Merrick. Jim believed in what Merrick did, and also said that he wanted to be as courageous as Merrick was when it came to the pursuance of his passion. In addition, he clearly stated that he was in the condition in which he was currently in, because of being a coward, and following what the society wanted him to do, hence he became a lawyer, a thing he never wanted to become. He praised the actions of Merrick, and saw him as a leader, and a person of great importance to the society, who did not allow the small mindedness of the society to pull him back (Cather, 482).

Judging from the way Cather represented the story about the alienation of Merrick from the society, it is clearly evident, that the Merrick’s society did not value artisan, and it did not also see the need of following dreams which it had not overseen. Due to that reason, Merrick was condemned for his actions of pursuing his dreams of being an artist and a teacher, and so he was alienated from his society. This has also been the case with other artists, whom the society has perceived as being traitors, to the point of alienating them from their own society, “”Harvey Merrick and I went to school together, back East. We were dead in earnest, and we wanted you all to be proud of us some day. We meant to be great men. Even I, and I haven’t lost my sense of humor, gentlemen, I meant to be a great man. I came back here to practice, and I found you didn’t in the least want me to be a great man (Cather, 483).””

Alienation of Mozart from his Culture

Mozart’s life was however different as compared to that of Merrick, since he was loved in his hometown of Salzburg, but he did not love the place. He perceived the place as being nothing but an area which could not have a musical audience, but a hall filled with tables and chair. His heart longed for a different place, a place where he could be able to compose his songs, and grow his career as a musician. This place was not Salzburg, and he believed he could reach his goals in another place other than in Salzburg (Irving, 30). The hate for Salzburg was driven from its inability to raise a musician, a factor which made Mozart to opt for Vienna, which was much more advanced, and it was also musically adapted with a theatre, entertainment, and outside entertainments in Vienna was also bigger as compared to those in Salzburg. He had written most letters to his friends and family, concerning the way he had hated Salzburg, because it could not ignite the spark of music in his life. He longed for a place where he could be able to sing at ease, an area where the audience could appreciate his music and that was not Salzburg.

As a teenager, Mozart worked as a noble Archbishop’s servant, where he would write songs at the pleasure of the Archbishop. He did this in order to earn money as a musician and a songwriter. He had initially travelled to different countries which included Germany, France, Austria, and Italy, in the hunt for a good job and a city which was more lucrative, and had musical opportunities. After he left to such for a job, he wrote to his father complaining about the state of Salzburg. At the age of 25 years, Mozart fell out with the Archbishop, a move which prompted him to move to Vienna which was 185 miles away (Irving, 34). He fell in love with city, because it had what he was looking for. Vienna was more erudite, because it had more sophisticated audiences, and better musicians, and the town also he had opportunity of making more money from piano lessons from those who wanted the latest music in significant social events. Vienna welcomed Mozart with warm hands, and his first piano concerto was graced by 120 customers who had paid for the event. Mozart’s performance was met with applause, where he was asked to sing again. He became famous in the town, and he started getting more concerts.

In sum, Mozart’s music was appreciated more in Vienna as compared to Salzburg, hence showing how his society had alienated music, because it did not appreciate the music which he was doing. When he moved out of Salzburg, things changed, and he consequently became successful, and made more money (Irving, 40). His society seemed not to appreciate what he was doing, a factor which made him to look for another area where he could be able to explore his talent. Just like Merrick, he was able to make it in Vienna which was something he could not have done while in Salzburg. This basically explains what most artists tend to pass through, while in their hometown’s making them to look for other areas which can be able to support their talents. Most artists, just like Mozart and Merrick, tend to see farther, hence falling out of with their societies, in order to look for greener pastures in other areas. Relation of Mozart and Beethoven to other Societies (China and India)

Mozart’s works of art were highly appreciated in other cultures, particularly in the Indian and the Chinese cultures. For instance, in China, classical music gained prominence, due to the close relationship which it had to the Confucian culture. The Confucius believed the study of music was an essential way to train the mind. In addition, during the 19th century, classical music was also viewed as a symbol of prestige and western culture (Irving, 52). Most people consequently enjoyed Mozart’s and Beethoven’s work, thus most of the Chinese currently the future of Western classical music lies in the hands of those from Asia, as compared from those in the west. In India, Mozart’s work was highly appreciated, to the point where his classical music was incorporated in Hollywood films. The reception which Mozart received in India could not be compared to any other country, basically because the Indians had been waiting for such a type of music, which they could use. In addition, Mozart as a pianist, was able to go hand in hand with the Indian singing culture, hence leading to the adoption of Mozart’s songs into their own culture. Until now, most musicians are still regarded and compared to Mozart, because Mozart was a hero to the Indians (Irving, 54). He was consequently appreciated in both China and India, as opposed to the appreciation which he had earlier on received in Salzburg.


In conclusion, the relationship of artists to their societies has never been good, and this has been majorly affected by the way artists are handled by their societies. As discussed, Merrick, who was a renowned sculptor, was not respected by his own society, because he went against the dictates of his own society. He decided to open up his mind, and move from a small minded area in Kansas, towards the East in order to reach his goals. However after his death he was not accorded the respect he deserved, because he was alienated from the society. On the other hand, Mozart, a renowned musician and pianist, was a mere song writer, who worked for the Archbishop, for a little pay. Nonetheless, after moving to Vienna, he was able to become famous, thus his music was loved all over the world including China and India.

Work Cited

Will Cather. The Sculptor’s Funeral: Fiction.

John, Irving. Understanding Mozart’s Piano Sonata: Routledge. 2010 print.

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