Friday, September 4, 2015

A Higher Expression In Art

Human Civilization

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky Kleine Welten (“Small Worlds”); 1922: The German magazine Bauhaus writes: “The portfolio ‘Kleine Welten’ (Small Worlds), consisting of 12 graphics in colour and black-and-white, is Kandinsky’s most important portfolio. Here, he realised each graphic work using the most appropriate printing technique: the lithograph for the painterly, the woodcut for the strong contours and etching for the fine lines.”
Source: Wikipedia
It seems that every generation asks the question of why art matters; and every generation agrees that it is important, giving some reasons why this is so. One response is found here. Yet, its very nature refuses an easy or simple definition. Art might not make us better persons, but the absence of art might make us worse. One thought is that when historians and anthropologists and others look back at older civilizations, one of the chief areas they examine is its art, its culture, its expression of ideas. It is not the commercial or political practices of past eras that is of great interest; these more often than not rise and fall, and become footnotes (literally) in the accounting and recounting of history.

Art tells some story. Humans love to tell stories, to capture in some media what is important to us. It might not have great commercial value (i.e., not until the artist achieves fame and is preferably dead) or any political value (“art is not propaganda”), but because it does not, it becomes universal. This universality might be the strength of art and explains both its omnipresence and endurance. Art matters because it is not defined by the rules of commerce or politics, thus giving us another perspective or vision of the world. [As an aside, the wealthy view art as an investment; the original meaning of the word “invest,” now considered archaic, was, as the OED puts it, to“Clothe or cover with a garment” thus endowing it with authority.]

Even so, you do not have to own art to appreciate it; art can be found outside your door, at the park, at the museum, in the country, in the city. In a very real sense, we are surrounded by art and artistic possibilities. It takes some human effort to fashion and refashion it in some form that appeals to us. It takes some vision, often mystical, often otherworldly, to bring it all together in some form that tells a story that has a resonance with many people, to give it some universality. It can be representational or non-representational. It can be symbolic; it can be metaphorical; it can be fantastical; it can be literal. Such is the beauty, the strength of art—it is not only one thing, one idea, one thought.

Moreover, the best art is not bound by the politics and arguments of nations, of religions and of economies; the best art is enjoyed and respected and held in awe for evoking a feeling that is both human and not, that is, transcendent. In many cases, the best art is spiritual, a thought shared by Kandinsky (“Concerning the Spiritual In Art”; 1910) in his treatise defending abstract art as a viable form of conveying transcendence, which was further developed and exhibited in his geometrical artworks. Kandinsky writes about continuing change, some of it troubling:
They say to themselves: “If the science of the day before yesterday is rejected by the people of yesterday, and that of yesterday by us of today, is it not possible that what we call science now will be rejected by the men of tomorrow?” And the bravest of them answer, “It is possible.” (11)
Yes, this is true; and such is the essential strength of science, its ability to correct and change its views with the many new discoveries, all supported by verifiable facts. This is no doubt an admirable quality, which has made the world in many ways easier to survive and to bear. But science alone is not sufficient for human happiness; it can never be. It takes ideas that speak to man’s heart and soul. So, it brings us into the realm of  higher ideas, of transcendence, of beauty and of universality. Old ideas can be comforting, especially for persons suffering dislocation and too many changes.

To be sure, art is often about different things, more often than not about continuity, certainty and the search for the higher expressions of truth, as Nature reveals it. Some call these higher expressions eternal truths or universal truths. Why is it that certain paintings, for example, transcend culture, religion and nationality? Is there a hidden universal language in the delineation of brush strokes? What is found in the interplay between light and shadow or in the simplicity of bold striking colours and sharp lines? I would argue that there is a common universal longing in the seeking of a universal truth in and of nature; this has always been the case, and so it remains in some atelier somewhere.

There are many awe-inspiring works, ones like this, that take your breath away, if only momentarily to make you wonder about the higher things of life. Such is important. Toujours; et pour l’éternité.

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