In the Final Days of the Arts (I)

In the Final Days of the Arts (I)

Written by Alfonso Elizondo


The first reflections on art occurred during classical Greco-Roman antiquity. It was thought of as the human being’s competence in any productive field. It was a synonym for skill, whether applied to building a temple, an object, commanding an army or winning in a debate. In other words, art was any skill that was subject to specific rules or principles that make it an object of learning, evolution and technical perfection. At that time the same thing did not happen with poetry, which came from inspiration and was not considered an art.

Aristotle defined art as that constant tendency in the human being to produce things in a rational way. Quintilian said that art was based on a method and an order, while Plato described art as the ability to do things through intelligence by a process of learning. For Plato, art had a general meaning and was the creative capacity of the human being.

During the Renaissance there was a change in the thinking of the human being and he separated crafts and sciences from the arts, which included poetry for the first time. This major conceptual change led to the improvement of the personal situation of the artist due to the interest that the nobility and rich Italian masters began to show in beauty.

So the artist’s products acquired a new status as objects intended for aesthetic consumption and became a means of social advancement that increased patronage and collecting.

In this new context several treatises about art emerged, such as those of León Batista Alberti (1436 – 1439) and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Commentaries  in 1447. While Alberti was influenced by Aristotle in trying to give art a scientific basis, Ghiberti was the first to bring a perfectionist sense to art objects and motifs by creating the artistic periods of classical antiquity, the medieval period and what he called the ‘Renaissance of the Arts’.

With ‘Mannerism’ came the beginning of modern art, where things were no longer represented as they are, but as the artist sees them. There was a movement away from the single beauty of the Renaissance, which was based on science, to the multiple beauties of ‘Mannerism’ which was based on nature. A new component, the imagination, appeared in art with both the fantastic and the grotesque being reflected in the works of Brueghel or Giordano Bruno, for whom art had no rules and was not learned, but came from inspiration.

With the Enlightenment art began to gain some amount of autonomy. Art moved away from religion and the powerful to become a reflection of the artist’s will, focusing more on the emotional qualities of the work than on its meaning. In his Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, Jean Baptiste Dubos (1719), opened the way to relative taste when he said that aesthetics came not from reason but from feelings.

The emergence of Romanticism in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century with Sturm und Drang, saw the triumph of the idea that art comes spontaneously from the individual and is the expression of the artist’s feelings. For Novalis and Shiegel, the art form is found inside the artist and is his own natural language.

Then along came Schopenhauer applying the idea of ‘The world as will and representation to the theory of art’, where art is a way to escape the state of unhappiness typical of man, and he identified knowledge as an artistic creation. So art was the reconciliation between will and consciousness, between object and subject, leading to a state of contemplation and happiness.

According to Shopenhauer, aesthetic consciousness is a state of disinterested contemplation where things appear most powerfully. Art speaks in the language of intuition, not of reflection, and is the complement of philosophy, ethics and religion. He also showed that in oriental art man must free himself of his will to live and to desire which are the source of dissatisfaction. So art is a way release the will to go beyond the ‘self’.

In 1851, Wagner put forward the idea of ​​the total work of art as a combination of poetry, speech and music. He believed that primitive language was vocalic and that the consonant was a rationalizing element. So according to him, the introduction of music into the word would be a return to the primitive innocence of language.

Addendum: I will write the second and final part of this topic of the ‘end of the arts’ where I will try to summarize the most recent views of art from the late nineteenth century to the present.