Standpoint and vanishing point
From about 1500 A.D. to the beginning of modern times, Western art has developed from an attitude of collective service and anonymity, to one of I-consciousness. The I now determines its own position and its own point of view of and for itself, whereas before, the human being lived in an internal space that was penetrated by both God and the opposing forces, and in which somewhere above there was heaven, and below hell.
It is significant that the terminology of the perspective speaks about a “standpoint” and a “vanishing point”, which is an exact expression of the viewpoint of the I. The “eye level” determines the “horizon”. Between the standpoint and the vanishing point there is a gap, which has to be bridged, wandered through, crossed and researched.
Since the imbedding of the human being into a geocentric cosmos eventually turned out to be a pupation, a stage that had to be moved through and let go of, everything that had been believed until then was doubted and critically reviewed. The seas, which till then had been feared as borders to Hades, could now be sailed; and the interior of the body, which was a holy taboo before, was now opened and researched. The loss of the integration in God’s creation and the liberation of superstition in the age of enlightenment, which cultivated itself into a self-confident atheism, was followed by the depressing experience of an isolated, useless existence in a vast and godless universe. A new self-discovery became necessary.
Through scientific progress – the evolutionary concept by Darwin, Freud’s psychoanalysis, the economic analyses by Karl Marx - the perception of the outside world widened into a limitless universe, and on the inside narrowed down into microstructures of neuronal and psychological processes. The microscope and the telescope became the optical equivalents with which man tried to measure his largely lost security, both individually and as a species. Nuclear fission, as a world-shattering proof of the close connection between matter and energy, brought the previously unheard-of possibility of total creativity or total destruction into people’s consciousness in a shocking way.
Art has developed like a flare rocket since the advent of the I in the Renaissance. The early fascination with this sense of self is still in our memory and stored in the works of that era; the light, however, has gone. For with the dynamism of a revolutionary advance, the achievements of the perspective were “overcome”. I central perspective and harmony of proportion fell into disrepute. Influences from other cultures made the European one appear tight and decadent. The old garment burst at the seams in modern times.
At the beginning of the 20th century, humanity found itself before a confronting quantum leap on scientific, psychological, social, economic, political and spiritual levels. This demanded a new language of forms, in which this revolutionary paradigm shift could occur.
There was to be an art, which was free of all the known references and illusions, and which would prepare the pure spirit of a new humanity for a future liberated from slavery.
Kandinsky recalled the icon painting; in cubism, the central perspective was rejected as a one-dimensional view which does not correspond with reality. The picture as a plane was established anew, with its own laws which were not ruled by the illusory depiction of a seeming space. And perhaps the greatest leap in modern art was represented in abstract painting, which turned away from the visible world of forms altogether.
Many highly spiritual and artistic impulses came to life in Germany, especially in the Bauhaus. Through fascism in the “Third Reich”, this movement was discredited and opposed. In Russia the revolution for the liberation of the masses became a dictatorship, which destroyed its own ideals.
The misuse of concepts like fascism and communism, which both had a great impact on humanity, showed the structural inability of the human being to realise ideals. In these cases, the ideal itself fell into disrepute and was cancelled from the catalogue of human hopes, leaving only material promises of happiness. The refined and unscrupulous misuse of aesthetics and art by monarchs and dictators contributed in its own way to a growing general suspicion of everything that was harmonious and beautiful.
The effects of this are reflected in contemporary art. The negative, ugly, and chaotic appear as an honest expression, which is closer to the reality that we experience, than the idealised future aesthetic of failed utopian concepts. The ugly, provoking and screaming also proves to be more media-effective. Thus developed a calculated deal, where ugliness sells as truth - a back-to-front view of the principle it pretends to oppose.
Some of the works that emerged from the most daring visions at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, have very high market values. The fiery, spiritual advent of that period is now called “classical modern art”.
The search for the truth behind the appearance continued, and led to a gradual detachment from nature as an imperative requirement for the pictorial arts. The need for an objective perception, which was discovered during the Renaissance period, became suddenly fulfilled by the invention of the camera. With its objective lens, an incorruptible glass eye, photography could freeze a picture onto a light-sensitive silver background, without any subjective expression or interpretation at all.
This was simultaneously the precursor for an unprecedented realm of illusion, which later became a globally influential industry. Cinema, television, video, and, nowadays, the virtual worlds of computer games and computer-generated films, all generate lifelike moving pictures that depict a reality without any links to nature.
In the 21st century, we have somehow arrived “back to the future”, because all the visions of today remind us of the failed ones of the past. The consequence is a pervasive lack of orientation, with a single, seemingly reliable value system: the capital, the financial value. We experience the relative meaninglessness of art as a spiritual orientation, and the triumph of the illusionary media. However, all this is also a challenge for the awakening, creative human being, who knows that he is co-responsible for the future.
(to be continued)