There was a time not so long ago when art was associated with beauty. Today, however, most people ‘don’t get art’. How did it come to this? How is it that even regular folk were once stirred by the beauty of art whereas today art provokes feelings of bewilderment, and in extreme cases, even revulsion? Let us examine the character of good art and how it stirs the human soul. Traditional art is often inspired by the mundane. A moment captured by art possesses a certain poignancy due to the fleetingness of that moment. As Arthur Danto stated: “a celebration of the momentary, a melancholy exaltation of what will not come again”
Danto’s comment was addressing Japanese art but there are plenty of examples from the Western tradition as well. Consider Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of human hands above.
The subject is mundane and so are the gestures depicted in the picture. Yet as I focused my attention on the fingers and wrists I relented to the urge of examining my own hands. I extended and retracted each finger of my right hand and gently felt my knuckles and finger joints with my left. We use our hands to perform various activities everyday yet seldom do we stop and marvel at their wondrous complexity. The human body is a biological marvel that billions of humans will take for granted every day. Da Vinci’s artwork guides us to penetrate the structure of the mundane and glimpse the inner beauty contained within. I think we can safely agree that good art is inspired by the mundane but ultimately transcends it.
The scope of Art
The Alternative Right and various others (including the Occidental Observer) have diligently cataloged the atrocities committed against traditional Western Art at the hands of Abstract Expressionists and Post Modernist ‘artists’. Yet very little is said about their motivation in tearing down traditional western art. Before we tackle that question we must turn our attention to the scope of art within culture and civilization. Artistic endeavours have traditionally been more than a solipsistic attempt at “self discovery”. The motive that underlies so many great works of art is an attempt at communicating a civilization’s understanding of the universe.
The floating perspective of Chinese art conveys the of the Tao. The misty mountains and unending horizons symbolize the path through the cosmos that has no destination. Flowing water, a recurring motif in Chinese art (and the Tao Te Ching), is generally interpreted as a metaphor for the Tao. Water intuitively follows its path effortlessly and thus also embodies the Taoist principle of Wu Wei, or effortless action. Chinese art (atleast from the 10th century) articulates a Universe envisioned by Taoism.
Indian artwork similarly articulates its own interpretation of the universe. The prodigious forms on temple facades, humans, beasts, gods, can overwhelm the senses. Individually, the forms register in the mind but when observed from afar, the numerous distinctions collapse into a vague singular mass. The ancient Hindus discovered the paradox that beyond a certain point in human perception, distinctions/diversity converges with homogeneity. Hindu art attempts to convey the illusionary nature of reality and draws the viewer towards the singular ultimate reality that lies beneath the illusionary surface. That reality, as the Upanishads instruct, is Brahman.
The Western view of the universe
What does Western art convey about the universe? We know that the Greeks saw the universe as a temporally infinite, structured system. That beneath the chaos was an underlying order that could be deciphered. The Miletian philosophers were particularly obsessed with cosmology. Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximeses, each proposed his own model of the universe governed by an underlying arche. It was Pythagoras, however, who first proposed that the structure of the universe could be deciphered through numbers.
“To this day, the theorem of Pythagoras remains the most important single theorem in the whole of mathematics. That seems like a bold and extraordinary thing to say, yet it is not extravagant; because what Pythagoras established is a fundamental characterization of the space in which we move, and it is the first time that it is translated in numbers. And the exact fit of the numbers describes the exact laws that bind the universe…Symmetry is not merely a descriptive nicety; like other thoughts in Pythagoras, it penetrates to the harmony in nature.” (Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent Of Man)
The Greeks were obsessed with symmetry. Brownowski argued that humans were hardwired to recognize and find symmetry appealing. Consider that we inhabit a horizontal plane upon which we are free to travel using any means of locomotion at our disposal. Gravity intersects this horizontal plane at a right angle. A right angle is half of a square, a perfectly symmetrical shape. Greek art and sculpture prized symmetry as the highest aesthetic virtue.
The Church did not discard the Greek paradigm of the structured universe, but superimposed the intelligence of God onto this order. The elements that have characterized Western art over the past 500 years, form, symmetry, and geometric perspective, reflect the Western view of the universe as a structured system; a structure that can be deciphered through rational and empirical means. Despite the conflict between the Church and Galileo, Western civilization was to embrace the latter, partly due to the empirical obsession with nature that the Church itself had fostered.
It is precisely this idea that leftists find so abhorrent, the idea of a structured universe. George Orwell warned us in 1984 that the greatest threat to Marxism is a structured universe that can be appreciated through empiricism:
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
The left has been attacking empiricism for decades. Western academia has gradually shifted away from the positivism of the Enlightenment to the anti-positivism of the Frankfurt school. The Cultural Marxist academics who instruct gullible university students that reality is ‘socially constructed’ are issuing this most essential command of The Party. As an example, let us briefly turn our focus to feminism. The Bible instructs us that the sexes compliment one another and this is confirmed by evolutionary psychology as well (2 + 2 = 4). This empirically grounded approach to gender relations is threatening to the feminist narrative which insists that men oppress women and that the 2 genders, save for anatomy, are identical (2 +2 = 5).
What does all of this have to do with art?
That becomes obvious when we look at the ‘art’ that was to replace the traditional Western schools. Examine the abomination below.
This work of ‘art’ by Jackson Pollock is the very anti-thesis of traditional Western art. There are no forms, no symmetry, and no perspective. If the essence of traditional western art was order, then this piece is a clear expression of chaos. We’re told that this monstrosity is a snapshot of the artist’s subconscious and that it empowers viewers to to interact with it by drawing their own interpretations. This is utter rubbish. Traditional art enables the artist to engage in conversation with the viewer. Abstract Expressionism is a dialogue an artist has with himself. It is impossible for the viewer to access this dialogue and thus the viewer engages in a dialogue with himself as well. Traditional art is about engaging the viewer whereas Abstract Expressionism is an exercise in solipsism.
The war on art is a war against the soul of western civilization. While Abstract Expressionism may no longer be in vogue, art is still getting uglier with every passing decade. A culture that has no conception of vulgarity is a culture that practices tolerance without boundaries. Tolerance without boundaries is a formula for cultural suicide. The modus operandi of post modern art is to “push the boundaries” whereas traditional Western art was all about preserving those boundaries. Art encapsulates a civilization’s worldview, and without boundaries, what separates the Western worldview from others?
Orwell stated in 1984 that “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”
If he were alive today he would undoubtedly add: “Ugliness is beauty.”