OUR collective artistic culture was bound to suffer, when the collective forces of art were concentrated in a special domain, that of pictures and statues. The fact is not minimised by the consideration, that this development was the work of a glorious history, originating in the most brilliant phases of modern culture. Nor can it be denied that the most splendid epochs of humanity achieved their great results without the omnipotence of pictures. It will hardly be contended that the Greeks lacked the instinct for artistic expression. The only modern nations that may aptly be compared with the Greeks in artistic importance, the Chinese and Japanese, certainly had pictures, but they had them as the Greeks had their sculptures and their wall-decorations; to such gifted nations as these, abstract art was not the final goal of artistic ambition, but merely one of the many emanations of their rich culture. These works are, no doubt, the most important evidences of their art that we now possess, but they are far from being the only ones; they crown a whole that is homogeneous throughout. They are, therefore, infinitely less significant of the degree of culture of their age than are works of equal importance in our own times. To the brilliant researches of German savants, more especially Furtwängler, we owe the beginnings of a personal estimate of Phidias. Yet who does not feel that even this greatest of artists was not the arbiter of his epoch, but a product of its glory?
The ideal interdependence of all artistic activities made art the possession of the whole people, and enabled them to understand it and to love it.
We moderns repeatedly see instances of great artists who live and work and die among us, and find recognition only after death, while the public acclaims the pigmy who is no sooner dead than he is forgotten. It was not so in the past. Among the pictures of the great masters in our galleries we find portraits of their wealthy and powerful contemporaries. How came the rich patrons of Florence, Flanders, and the Netherlands, of France and Germany, to choose the greatest masters of their time as their portraitists, whereas the wealthy and distinguished of our own age so often content themselves with the most miserably equipped? Obviously, they were better able to appreciate good painting. Yet then as now, princes busied themselves with affairs of state, and their artistic sense was not relatively higher above that of the general public than it is to-day. But the general standard was higher. The public was no more concerned with painting than it is now; then as now, it had other things to occupy it; but it was familiar with art. People found in painting the same excellence as in other things, chairs, tables, and clothing; they would have been astonished to find anything else. Painting was not much more highly esteemed than any other craft. It owed its privileged position solely
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Publication information: Book title: Modern Art:Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics. Volume: 1. Contributors: Julius Meier-Graefe - Author, Florence Simmonds - Translator, George W. Chrystal - Translator. Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1908. Page number: 1.