The Art (2)

We already mentioned that currently, in the artistic world, it seems like the concept of beauty has lost its greatness and its value at the cost of the principle of originality and free expression. Is this serious? Does this indicate a form of deterioration, a certain loss? Yes and no. Evidently, the fact that we gave up the ancient path that had provided more beauty or an aesthetic sense to the art world has brought other benefits. Theoretically, the loss of something leads to the gain of something else and the question is: what has been lost and therefore, what has been acquired? What has been lost concerns aesthetics, in the highest sense, that is, an aspect that exceeds mere personal taste. Many modern artworks are labeled as interesting but very few amaze the spectator or viewer by their profound, inherent beauty. Alternately, the gain is in the domain of liberty, limitless creativity and unimpeded artistic expression. The modern artist does not allow the law, rules or anyone dictate his artistic expression, except possibly for certain rules concerning the technique to be implemented. He wants to express himself, be original and not copy if possible.

Despite these matters, why does aesthetics seem to regress, to decline? Do we have to change the criteria and consider “Beauty” otherwise? If we look at paintings of Old Masters, we must concede that, beyond the subject that has been tangibly addressed, we are awe-struck by the harmony and beauty they convey. We can personally prefer a still life to a portrait or a landscape to a battlefield, but artwork, almost invariably, expresses “Beauty” to our eyes, we can’t deny it. Where does that come from?

In order to find the answer to this question it may be useful to ask another question. Why do modern artists no longer like to be limited by rules or laws? What was the attitude of the previous, earlier artists in this regard? Here we can see that before the beginning of the 19th century, the field of art was much more regulated, structured and is thus no longer the case today. In the past, the artist knew that by choosing the field of art as the centre of his attention, of his life, he would feel obliged to apply a serious and prolonged discipline. His craft, his art, he could not learn it, grasp it with all his being in a space of a few years. It was much more demanding, it required a lifetime. Often, his vocation was felt at a very young age and he had the honor of announcing it to his family, to his parents. Talent and exceptional gift were considered a favor granted to man, a God’s grace. At the time, the child or the young adult did not need to create an implausible story to divulge his life vocation to his parents. He would assert his destiny and express what he felt in the deepest part of his being and no one would doubt it. Of course there have been cases where the personal destiny of certain individuals did not correspond to the wishes of the parents or a parent, often the father but, as a rule, the choices were respected particularly when the legitimacy was deeply felt.

At the start of the modern age, at the beginning of the 19th century, things changed. The French Revolution had made its purpose known in the West, peasants rebelled against their fate and, inside many men, the intellect was awakening along with the thirst of knowledge. The church began to waver on its foundation, science sharpened its sword and art suffered from self-doubt. For the intellect – and with it science – could quite exist without God, and also without Beauty.