Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time for reading. Burne Hogarth speaks (part2)

The special word art is a sacred temple, a mysterious inner sanctum of artistic pursuit, where magical intellectual powers interact with primordial outpourings of the irrational subconscious. Paraphrasing Thucydides, who has put it abruptly: When common, everyday words lose their definitions and meanings, there is a general crisis in a given field.
To go further, when art terminology has lost its power to convey sense, idea, or meaning of art expression, then the artist, the art field, the whole cultural endeavor, is conflicted, confused, and disordered; it becomes a chaotic wasteland, a lost continent of the culture.
The net result has been to let loose a carnival of art dilettantism and chi-chi art sophistication concealed behind an imposing front of synthetic rhetoric, aesthetic lyricism, and emotional bathos. The state of art today is such that it can now be performed by tyros and amateurs with virtually no study, preparation, or training. In galleries and exhibitions, the amateur aesthete can now compete on equal terms with the seasoned, knowledgeable master with such facility that hardly anyone, frequently not even art connoisseurs and critics, can tell good art from bad art, amateur art from professional art. When the quest for brevity and simplicity has been reduced to infantile primitivism, we have lost the validity of concepts; when the creative urge to reveal life has been distorted into a wayward surge of undirected energy, we have lost control of direction and experimentation; when the search for clarity and order has been diverted to piecing out a meaningless jargon of amateur misbehaviour, we have lost our artistic heritage; when the need for definitions, standards, and criteria has been seduced by vacuous emotional mumblings, we have seen the perversion of the philosophy of art and aesthetics. When the artist has surrendered his status, his authority, his principles, his professionalism, then the amateur has taken over, and the jungle is upon us.

The problem of the amateur in art is really the problem of the artist in society.
To say that the amateur has invaded the arts, and that the fine arts are becoming an amateur art, is to say that the artist has defaulted in his obligation to the social environment.
But this view alone does not face the issue squarely, for it would force the conclusion that the artist alone is responsible for the neglect and deterioration of art. To say that the artist has rejected the norms of living, has removed himself from society, has turned away from reality to promote his inner personal image of life and art-for-art's-sake isolationism, is to say the exile prefers the desert, the suicide enjoys cutting his veins, the tortured man relishes his anguished cries for help. In truth, these are but the pathetic attempts of the withered, truncated man to become a whole man. The issue at hand is really a dual problem; it is not only the artist's inbreeding and involution-it is also society's forced estrangement and neglect of the artist. If there is a crisis in art, a disintegration of its moral fiber, a decay of its historical precepts and philosophical virtues, it is because society first has disavowed and disabled it as an intellectual resource, a cultural necessity, a social and educative force. It has refused its permission to be integrated with the technological, scientific advances in our time, except as a utilitarian, commercial, ancillary art. To engage a solution on this basis needs a moral reawakening of society and a conceptual reworking of art.

The reestablishment of self-control in the artist and social respect for art devolves on creating again a new dualism of art and science in the twentieth century. The obscure terminology must be clarified and attached to commonly shared associations; personal values must be defined according to generalized experience; the personal subjective purpose must be widened to embrace the broader social goal. The immediate and urgent necessity, the first order of the day, is to redefine the old word art. The clichés, the nonsense, must be stripped off. Art must have a new interpretation, infused with new meanings and values, in order to find its equal place with other positive cultural pursuits in our time. It must mean as much to the population as medicine, surgery, bacteriology or physics, engineering, architecture-or steak, mashed potatoes, apple pie. It must be executed so ably and understood so well that it will stand strong and firm as a skyscraper
does when it is done well-or it will collapse in ruins when it is not. Art must be refined into a critical intellectual tool to meet these challenges. New cutting edges must be given to the old "saw," fine-honed and sharp, diamond-hard and tough , to stand up under the friction and abrasion of life. To be "art," it should be made responsible for communication of its ideas and concepts; it should reflect the life and times of the artist, his integrity, his ethics, his democratic ideals in the progress of man; it should show his developed skill and judgment in projecting significant, expressive form; it should reveal invention and originality in transmitting the aesthetic experience; and, above all , it should arise out of the environment, the social-human-scientific culture base as the controlling factor in its creation.

This does not mean that strictures or rigid conventions must be placed on the artist; nor does it say that experimentation or freedom in personal expression should be curtailed or abrogated; nor does it propose that there is only one way of seeing the world around us, one outlook, one style or method of approach. It does not ask the artist to obey or be subservient to any fixed rule, regulation, dogma, or tradition. It does not set up absolutes of authority, or impose conditioned reflexes of conformism. However, it does ask the artist to respect and rely on the positive norms, values, and traditions that still operate and still function in the study and preparation of the artist, that still apply in the cultural background of modern art creation. These should be seen as the educative resource, the imperative precondition for the survival and growth of art.
Socrates, we are told, attempting to probe into the nature of law, speaks of the laws of men as a response to the social pressures that arise out of human conditions in the natural environment. And therefore, he argues with penetrating insight, to understand the nature of law we must first understand the law of nature. The liberating principle of art lies precisely here, in the Socratic approach to the conjoined relationship of two mutually attracted, interacting forces-man and nature, nature and man. This synergistic principle, if we can refer to it as such, argues for a relationship of ideas, in Toynbee's words, in a context of challenge and response, response and challenge. It seizes upon diverse attitudes of thought, probing for intrinsic attributes of contraction and expansion, refinement and extension; it enlarges the field of intellectual vision, and refines the area of critical judgment; it tends to limit subjective bias and mental myopia.

If we apply the principle to one of the central problems of art, the presence of the amateur in the fine arts, we might uncover these provocative correlations: To understand the amateur of art, we must first understand the art of the amateur; to recognize the professional of art, we must recognize the art of the professional; to explain the presence of the amateur in professional art, we must explain the presence of the professional in amateur art. Suddenly, the critical questions rise to the surface: In how many ways is professional art an amateur art? Can professional art be easily imitated by the amateur?
The way is open for other challenging assertions. For instance, that much-abused old habit, skill: To discover the skill in art, let us first discover the art in skill. Or: To ask where the old traditions are in modern art, we must first ask where the modern is in the old art. This is not a mere game of idea inversions or word juggling. If it were, the new statement of ideas in reverse would not be so sticky with uneasy, astringent meanings that quickly leap to mind. Nor is this a conclusive demonstration posed as an answer to the problems of art. It is an exercise of reason, an analytical approach in the examination of hitherto unassailable notions. It might be seen as the first incision in cliché and slogan surgery to arrest the deterioration in art.

A new dualism of art and science, if we can agree on the premise as indispensable to art today (as it was in the Renaissance), must again seek to introduce commonly understood criteria and standards. We must re-establish certain major links with the past as historical background, consistent with art progress today. We must incorporate the old traditions that are still viable, still alive today. But which are the living traditions and how can we be sure? Let us apply the synergistic principle and make an incision.
Our civilization is predominantly an advanced technical age of science. It developed its abundant greatness from earlier civilizations and beginnings. Now, a question: Where do the earlier civilizations appear in the modern age of science? We must first ask, where does the modern age of science appear in earlier civilizations? The answer seems clear: in those civilizations that have made scientific contributions. The reason we search out the older civilizations, and attach their findings to ours, is a scientific reason. This is true historically for our humanist-democratic institutions as well.
Therefore, the answer to the older traditions in modern art lies in the context of the larger framework; those old art traditions that tend to live on have survived for a humanist-democratic scientific reason.
Where modern art has precisely been interested in the art of the world's cultures, across the seas and in the past, is the human reason, the scientific reason. But it has done this willy-nilly, capriciously, driven by impulse rather than direction. It has chosen, through uncritical acceptance of the nineteenth-century artists' hostility and rage against the anti-libertarian French Academy, to continue the disparagement of the scientific, human anatomical figure as a sterile, mechanical, academic regression in art. It pronounces anatomical man dead in art. Anatomy as a rigor, a discipline in the refinement and skill of art, is debased in practice, study, and education. The word anatomical is today a term of contempt, and is made synonymous with "academic" in art circles. The rejection of the anatomical figure as a control has weakened the supportive structure of art, and one after another, scientific criteria are torn loose and discarded. The attempts to attach "new science" in art are essentially peripheral, tangential, quasi-scientific, makeshift concoctions; partially realized, fragmentary developments. Art, by these new values, has become the undisciplined arena of the romantic delinquent and the playboy amateur, while the hard-working professional fights for his life. And, sadly, the term modern in art is the target now of the unconcealed contempt and scorn of the population.

Because this polemic underscores the need to return to rational definitions of the entire nomenclature of art and the reworking of substantive new standards, the return of the human anatomical figure to the lexicon of art is a major condition toward the establishment of a new dualism of art and science. The premise of the human figure does not propose a restatement of medical anatomy. To rediscover Vesalius is no twentieth-century triumph; Vesalian anatomy must be given back to Vesalius. An advance in anatomy for art must be made in artistic anatomy. Muscle and bone structure must be left off where they inhibit or destroy understanding of surface form, artistic and expressive form. The anatomical figure of art must make a contribution to the dynamics of the living figure, of interrelationship of masses in motion, of insights into the figure to be used by artists and students of art, not medical students and surgeons. Because life today is so complex and varied, multiplying its dimensions with every passing day, the sincere, creative artist must be quick to react with keen insight and increased awareness to the changing profile of contemporary life. Because he must show versatility, flexibility, and diversification in experimental behavior, he must base himself securely on the human root, the warm kinship of his scientific brother, the consanguine association with the larger social environment.

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