Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview
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But at present we generally start at the wrong end of Art, we cling to her tail and reiterate the tag, that works of Art contain the whole of Art, and that by these we may repair and transform life ... simpletons that we are!' 2 Under this bourgeois rule the whole of man has become an appendage. Impressionism makes a splendid tail! The Expressionist, however, does not throw out a peacock's wheel, he does not consider the single production, but seeks to restore man to his rightful position; only we have outgone Nietzsche or, rather, we have retraced our steps and gone further back beyond him and have arrived at Goethe: art is no longer only to 'beautify' life for us and to 'conceal or transmute ugliness', but art must bring life, produce life from within, must fulfil the function of life as man's most proper deed and action. Goethe says, 'Painting sets before us that which a man could and should see, and which usually he does not see.' If Expressionism at the moment behaves in an ungainly, violent manner, its excuse lies in the prevailing conditions it finds. These really are almost the conditions of crude and primitive humanity. People little know how near the truth they are when they jeer at these pictures and say they might be painted by savages. The bourgeois rule has turned us into savages. Barbarians, other than those feared by Rodbertus, threaten; we ourselves have to become barbarians to save the future of humanity from mankind as it now is. As primitive man, driven by fear of Nature, sought refuge within himself, so we too have to adopt flight from a 'civilisation' which is out to devour our souls. The savage discovered in himself the courage to become greater than the threat of Nature, and in honour of this mysterious inner redeeming power of his, which, through all the alarms and terrors of storm and of ravening beasts and of unknown dangers, never deserted him, never let him give in in honour of this he drew a circle of guardian signs around him, signs of defiance against the threat of Nature, obstinate signs of demarcation to protect his possessions against the intrusion of Nature and to safeguard his belief in spirit. So, brought very near the edge of destruction by 'civilisation', we discover in ourselves powers which cannot be destroyed. With the fear of death upon us, we muster these and use them as spells against 'civilisation'. Expressionism is the symbol of the unknown in us in which we confide, hoping that it will save us. It is the token of the imprisoned spirit that endeavours to break out of the dungeon a tocsin of alarm given out by all panic-stricken souls. This is what Expressionism is.

Goethe J. W. von, Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, Vol. V, p. 12.
Nietzsche F. W., Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, Vol. II, p. 80.


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Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology
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