The Earthly Paradise: Art in the Nineteenth Century

The Earthly Paradise: Art in the Nineteenth Century

The Earthly Paradise: Art in the Nineteenth Century

The Earthly Paradise: Art in the Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

The central portion of 'L'atelier' depicts the 'rapport' between man and woman. The creative power of the man is guided by the anxious and sympathetic understanding of the woman who watches him. There is no meeting of eyes, no interlocking of arms as with the pair of lovers, there is no dialogue -- there is nothing but the proximity of the two bodies and an imperceptible emotional current that flows between them and gives them a sense of being at rest. In the inward attunement between the sexes we discern the fundamental axes around which we build our image of man -- that of the male and that of the female.

The type of thinking that professes to be enlightened, factual, and exact sets little store by these two power potentials; it is suspicious of all that harks back to the aboriginal and spontaneous in man, it identifies sex with barbarism, instinct and feeling with confusion and chaos. It arranges the world according to rigid, sharply outlined concepts, all of them deriving from the chimaera of progress, the bright sun of reason being sovereign over all. The active energy of the male is the very essence of this self-glorifying world. The only things that stir its heart are the poetry of action, and continual confirmation of its intellectual capacities. Man measures himself by the yardstick of mere intellect. By and large he would have us accept him as one seeking to attain a definite goal by clear and logical means. No shadow of uncertainty must dim this image, and he who projects it sets himself on the apex of the whole created world and makes use of what is in it according to his pleasure. Blake's 'Newton' (plate 7) is a symbol of that coldly calculating rationality.

This process of continual dissection by the conscious mind sets man at a distance from nature and makes of him a historically conscious being. Man alone can stretch himself out into the past and into the future; he alone possesses memory and so has history. Animals and plants lack this time-dimension, theirs is the eternal present of the moment. Man, however, is only man within the framework of the changes wrought by time; these are essential to his development, for it is in and through his encounter with the unknown that he attains his full stature, carrying forward what he has won into the future. Danger and daring are of the essence of his being, for man, the creature that lives on the level of history, is exposed and unprotected, and is alone with himself and all his works. But his historical consciousness is surety for his supremacy. Since, moreover, history is made by the personal responses of men to a variety of situations, it is the basis for his most cherished conviction, for his belief that every human being is a unique and unrepeatable individual.

Man, then, thrown back wholly upon himself, treats all creation as subservient to his own ends, making of it no more than the setting of the great drama of humanity. In history the freely ranging mind continually proclaims its victories over unconscious nature but in it, as we have seen, there is also manifested the principium individuationis. Yet there is more to it than that. The formative forces in history are election, favour, predestination, all of them things which further differentiate between one personality and another, selecting this man and elevating that. The end-product of this process, and its visible monument, is the Great Man, the price of whose greatness must neces-

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