Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Superficiality of Modern Art and Architecture

"There is no such thing as understanding art in any period apart from the philosophy of that period.  Philosophy inspires art, and art reflects philosophy.  We can never tell what the art of an age is unless we know what is the thought of the age.  If the thought is lofty and spiritual, art will be lofty and spiritual; if the thought is base and material, art will be base and material.  If the thought is of the heavens and heavenly, art will be of the heavens and heavenly; if the thought is of the earth and earthly, art will be of the earth and earthly.  In that period of Grecian history, for example, when Plato and Socrates and Aristotle were giving eternal truths to men, the clear lines of the Parthenon and the airy Ionic of the Erechtheion served as so many petrified incarnations of their thought.  Closer to our own times, when Rousseau set loose this exaltation of the ego and the romanticism of sense-passion, artists were found drinking at his fountain the shallow drafts of hatred for academic tradition, a license of inspiration, and a glorification of fleshy sensibilities.  And now in our own day, what is the philosophical inspiration of Futurism and its wild love of novelty and 'absolute commencements,' motion for motion's sake, but the thought of Henri Bergson?  What is the philosophical inspiration of Cubism, with is unrelated blocks, but the philosophy of Pluralism, which maintains that the multiple does not imply the unit?  What is the whole inspiration of modern art but a Subjectivism introduced by Kant and his school, the heritage of which is a belief that no work of art itself is beautiful, but that it is our psychic or mental states that are beautiful, either because we project these states to the object, which is the Einfühlung theory, or because they harmonize with the tastes and commandments of society, which is the sociological theory, or because they produce intersecting reactions, which is the Pragmatic theory?  If modern philosophy explains modern art, medieval philosophy explains medieval art.  If we are to understand why they painted and why they sculptured and why they built a certain way, we must ask ourselves how they thought, for art is the lyrical expression of philosophy.  Their civilization was much different from our own; in the thirteenth century, Christendom knew but one Church.  There was just one Faith, one Lord, one Baptism, one Church.  Since it was one in its rule of faith, it is easy to extract those basic principles of medieval life which served as the inspiration of their art.  These principles are threefold: (1) Impersonalism, (20 Dogmatism, and (3) Sacramentalism."
-Old Errors and New Labels by Fulton J. Sheen, c. 1931.

In architecture is reflected a philosophy of life. The philosophical basis of the contemporary world is materialism, that is, the negation of the spirit. If, however, no other world exists, only what can be seen, palpated and scientifically analyzed, then it is clear that there can never be architectural ornamentation as ornamentation is a symbol of communication with the immaterial through matter. Ornamentation implies or assumes that there is another world beyond this around us. The buildings of modern architecture therefore resemble glass cages and boxes of giant shoes, built on stilts. They are purely functional buildings since the only function in a materialistic civilization is the business or exchange of things of this world.

When civilization was inspired by a more joyful philosophy, when things visible were appreciated as external expressions of invisible things, the architecture was ennobled with countless ornaments: the pelican feeding the children with the very blood of its veins symbolized the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; the lion breathing life into dead offspring represented the Resurrection; the fox, peering at the door of his den, served as a prescient warning of Satan's traps. With his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Our Lord said that if the men were steadfast in their faith in God, even the very stones would proclaim His triumph. This actually came to pass in the the Gothic cathedrals!

Now, the stones no longer speak, because men today do not believe in the existence of another world, do not expect for themselves other destination than the same of inert stones. With faith in the spiritual lost, architecture ceases to express or symbolize.

Fulteen J. Sheen. Os problemas da vida. Porto: Livraria Fugierinhas, 1956, p. 66.

*my addition

I was unable to find this passage in the original English.

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