Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1

By Julius Meier-Graefe; Florence Simmonds et al. | Go to book overview

THE RISE OF PAINTING

THE Christian Church undoubtedly rendered immortal service to art. Her artistic influence began at the moment when the Roman Empire lay in its last throes. Her radical principle, to make everything as unlike as possible to the creations of Rome, enabled her from the first to dictate the course of art to some extent. The vesthetic standpoint was naturally somewhat overlooked in the programme. In the beginning the church was as barbarous as Protestantism. Art was idolatry, and for the Christian, this idolatry was embodied in sculpture, the presentment of heathen divinity, which was accordingly forbidden once for all. Not until Christian Radicalism had been softened by the lapse of a thousand years, did men begin to think more indulgently. But sculpture never quite recovered from the effects of this neglect, and its development as an abstract art was therefore tardier than that of painting. It remained architectonic to the time of our grandfathers.

All that had pertained to it in pre-Christian times among all nations, became the property of painting. The aims of the two arts were by no means identical. Painting was writing, a medium of communication for the primitive purposes of the church. It did not become art, till thought found leisure to express itself in images, and growing wealth led to the decoration of the churches.

Hence it was originally stroke, line, linear signs. Its development was the development of line.

And at the same time its history may be carried back to a history of the supersession of line by plane. All that was taken from the one was added to the other. The relation between the two is the physiological point of the whole history.

Line was the handwriting of style. It rises from the coarsest ornament to the highest expressive power, and becomes the vehicle of the mightiest and most comprehensive of traditions, the Gothic. As it declines, tradition declines with it, and individuality gains the ascendency. Then it takes refuge in planes, which become of supreme importance in our modern, purely abstract art.


MOSAICS

The first stage included mosaics. Planes as yet had no existence for the artist, they were the affair of the craftsman. Contour alone was the vehicle of the formula, and the formula was anonymous, not the work of individuals, but a legacy.

It is difficult, to a certain extent, to imagine the creative act that produced these early mosaics. There was no art, but there was certainly an instinct for interior-effects, the vastness, loftiness, and grace of which fill us with amazement. Who will find words in our copious art-dictionaries to describe the absolutely divine emotion that thrills the quiet tourist in a mosaic interior like that

-15-

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