The word "modern" is usually contrasted in our days with the term "old", a habit which has become so general that this method of opposing two sides of the same question has been accepted as proper. We have even come to believe in the last hundred years, that an actual state of hostility exists between the two categories. But to the student who sees the evolution of art-form as a flow and persistent process from one form into another through apparent and momentary contradictions, such easy generalizations as "old" and "modern" are of no help whatsoever. He tries to see single facts as parts of a long transformation; he seeks to understand the undercurrent of emotion and thought which dominates each period, giving life to the artistic manifestations of that era. Seeing from a bird's eye view, he notices that artists seem in the main to follow a dominating and unavoidable impulse which takes different forms at different points in history. Once it was the overpowering impulse of the soul to reach eternity which stimulated the Byzantine and Gothic artist to creative action. Later it was the discovery of material reality and the beauty of individual existence which stirred his blood. In our own time it is the desire to penetrate the mysteries of nature, including mankind's, which drives him into a new future. Always obeying the impulse of his time, one artist accepts it wholeheartedly without looking backwards, another tries consciously or instinctively to fuse it with experiences of the past. The latter believes in the wisdom of the past; the former in the certainty of a new outlook. One more or less balancing the other, art moves and returns upon itself with the swing of the pendulum.
Sculpture, including the intimate art of the statuette-maker, has undergone this tug-of-war between the Past and the Future with increasing oscillations of the pendulum since the days of Donatello--Donatello who could see and could model the men of his time in all their decisive actuality. In his day the art of an antique world was beginning to be rediscovered through excavations, revealing to such artists as Ghiberti the long-lost ideal of "beauty", that classical beauty which was perceived as physical perfection both of proportion and of living. Thus a strong emphasis on the opposition between real and ideal world was at this time forced upon the attention of the western world, though it must be realized that man has always dreamed, in times of special stress, of the ideal life. While the primitive dreams of a long-lost paradise where there exists neither struggle for subsistence nor death itself, civilized man dreams of Arcadia, the land of leisure and sensuous joy where one may forget the insecurity of city life. Artists, it would seem, will ever dream, in periods of emotional uncertainty, of an art which leaps the bounds of time and space--an art of "absolute beauty".
This struggle between an ideal world and the world of actuality has been the battlefield of the artist in the last hundred years, each "school" trying to draw behind it the critic, the art lover, the student, the museum (not to forget the masses),