“For not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine. Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us.” - "Ion", Plato
When we observe modern art, it appears to oscillate between hyperrealistic photorealism which focuses on the form so much that it loses any other meaning and the avant-garde that completely disregards the form. Both types of art appear to be missing something which has made Raphael's paintings an immortal monument to humanity and which makes anyone, an aesthete who is engaged in arts theoretically and intellectually or an amateur, admire its beauty. Yet if we look at Raphael's paintings, they are not defined by the hyperrealism we see often goes viral on social media. Raphael's paintings are also not defined by the disregard of the form, on the contrary, form is a very important for his paintings. However, Raphael does not reduce the painting to the form, his art is not a mere imitation, not a mere photography or a copy. The hyperrealisic painting may often make us admire the technique of the painter, but at the same time, it makes us feel nothing more. Are those paintings better art than the work of Cézanne, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Impressionists such are Renoir, and Berthe Morisot? Hardly so. And while hyperrealistic art makes us admire the technical expertise, the avant-garde that sacrifices the form makes us feel mocked at, it feels pretentions and insulting. Its often intentional provocation and vulgarisation makes it difficult to be enjoyed by anyone but the circles who pretend to enjoy it and who look down on anyone who is not part of their circle. How did these art forms appear? What do they tell us? What are the elements of the true work of art as opposed to simply a painting, a picture?
Fake Emotions & Fake Avant-garde
"The art establishment has turned away from the old curriculum which puts beauty and craft at the top of the agenda." - Roger Scruton Romanticism came after the era of Enlightenment and pure rationalism. Its mission was to bring back emotions, belief, idealism and myth back into the world that was obsessed with demystifying it. Romanticism soon became the major movement and it gave the world some of its most beloved poets, musicians and artists. But like every movement, there comes the point where it exhausts itself and when the younger artists only live to imitate the great "founders" of the movement. Gradually, Romanticists became infused with the fake emotion, fake celebration of the myth, of the fairy tale, of the innocent and it began to move towards sentimentalism and eventually kitsch. We are all surrounded by this kitschy sentimentalism, whether it is in form of soap operas or birthday cards, Valentine's gifts or Santa Claus. There is indeed, no sin in enjoying it either, as this kind of sentimentalism and nostalgia often brings us back to our more innocent stage, our dreams and gentler feelings. However, we all probably recognise the difference between a soap opera and a quality drama film which may have the same theme - that of romantic relationships. The detail that sentimentalism often lacks is that instead of inviting us to leave ourselves towards something bigger, higher, ideal, it sends us back in, we become preoccupied with our own emotions, dreams and illusions. It is gentle and innocent but slightly self-indulgent and in that, it fails to bring the cathartic experience we often seek in art. Modern art came as a response to Romanticist's fake emotions. After having seen challenges brought by the late 19th and early 20th century, they found it pointless, almost insulting to engage in the dreams and fairy tales of the Romantics. Art had to distance itself from the sentimental kitsch that became popular. Early modernist artists, both visual and artists of the word, provided a great amount of truly quality art. Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe, Egon Schiele, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and many others made art that was serious and that distanced from sentimentalism that still provided form, vision, idea and symbolism that could easily be interpreted and enjoyed. But just like Romanticism lost itself in the fake emotion, so did modernism and avant-garde lose themselves in the seriousness, in the opposition to the gentle and innocent that it eventually descended into celebration of ugliness, deformation and destruction. In its criticism of the bourgeoise, it became the snobbish bourgeoise that hates nothing more but the peasant and his innocent joys in the pastoral and domestic scenes. And once again, instead of taking a human outside of himself or herself, it makes him self-indulgent. This self-indulgence is not as innocent as the one that comes as a result of the nostalgic emotion. The self-indulgence of the avant-garde and its consumers is condescending and narcissistic. It is intellectual self-indulgence that has nothing to say but to offend and provoke.
Imitative Photographic Hyperrealism
Ancient philosopher Plato dedicated a big part of his works to the imitative arts and the whole concept of imitation. For Plato, imitative art was any art that was to imitate the physical reality - painting, poetry, drama fell under this realm. In his "Republic", he uses an example of the chair, and the carpenter who creates the chair on the basis of Idea that is the chair, while the artist creates only the imitation of the imitation. In order to look at phenomenon of the photographic hyperrealism, I shall use this Platonic concept. Very often, one or another hyperrealistic painting becomes viral on social media. Thousands of people retweet, repost and reblog admiring the way in which the hair, skin pores and nails are painted. However rarely anyone knows the names of these artists and rarely does their popularity last. Hyperrealistic painting is simply empty. It is empty of the scene, empty of the composition, empty of the emotion, empty of the idea. There is simply nothing behind it but the perfect lines. And while we can admire the expertise of the painter, it is hard for such a painting to hold us or even to become our favorite. Modern art is pregnant with concepts but it is empty of idealism and vision. Photorealism is empty of both. It has no philosophy and concepts and it has no idealism and vision either, it simply has an image. In the Platonic context, it is nothing more but an imitation of that which already exists in another form. It does not inspire itself in the ideal or the imagination, actually, it very often lacks in inspiration. Despite its photographic realism, it is also completely unconcerned with beauty or form beyond the imitating process. Empty of allegory and pregnant with nothing, photorealism wakes up within us nothing but an admiration for the technique. It is no different than the admiration for the baker, carpenter or a doctor who is good in using the tools given to him.
Beauty, Form, Transcendence
"Art has always been trying to alleviate the pain of existence. Modern art collaborates with misery as opposed to trying to oppose it. A painting by Titian is like Leningrad, holding against the forces of the world - even if they are having to eat rats in there, they still will never surrender to it - whereas the art of Tracey Emin is complete capitulation to the word. Cutting a shark in half and putting it in a tank of piss is just art giving up. I find it very odd when they describe art as challenging, because I always thought art was meant to calm you like a lullaby, not challenge you like some skinhead in an underpass." - Alexander Stoddart Throughout history of human creation, art followed certain main principles. Those were usually the principles of form, beauty, transcendence and redemption. Form is that which we humans recognise, that which allows us to see a human, a tree, an angel, beauty is that which draws us in and eventually that which sets the condition for the transcendence, the leaving of the self that occurs, and finally, art brings redemption. By portraying peace, war, life, death, sorrow, old age, young age, love, violence, family, joy, happiness and everything else that is part of the human experience, in a way that is not simply imitating the "harsh reality", rather in the way that shows the very reality in a grandiose, allegorical manner, it offers consolation and finally redemption. Through this redemptive moment it is that art serves like Stoddart above suggests, as a lullaby. It is there to offer a balm for every pain, it is there to offer an allegorical, cosmic meaning to every seemingly mundane experience, it is there to console not to make us disgusted at ourselves. Artist is, like the Plato's poet from the very beginning, the one whose head rests in the ideal, not the one who seeks to either replicate or deform.