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"The Dehumanization of Art" and "Mules, without understanding".

By Oleg Korolev


The style of Romanticism: 'Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog', by Caspar David Friedrich (1818). Within 100 years, it would be followed by the 'modern art'.


In 1925, the Spanish liberal philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) had written and published his essay "The Dehumanization of Art". In spite of the work , it represents a sort of a tendentious reflection on the current developments of the art process; it has actually become the program for the next generations of modern artists, all the way up to our times.

In this work, Ortega y Gasset explained how the perceptions of some of the elite members of art society have become tired of the "melodramas" of the traditional "old art". At the same time, how this traditional "old art" was "dishonestly" provoking the viewer to cry and laugh, or to feel some semi-utilitarian pleasures, because the ordinary viewer's "aesthetic enjoyment doesn't make a difference, in principle, from the emotional experiences that they have in the everyday life". He, without any hesitation, has appointed himself and those who will appreciate the new trends in art as clever and intellectually greatly advanced, but those who would stay loyal to the old, classical traditions in art--which contain a human emotionality--as just stupid, narrow-minded "masses".

At the same time, he greeted the "new art", which somehow acted in the context of the ideas expressed by one of the European classics in the phrase "Human, All Too Human", and has refused all that which is "human" in art. The "new art" of Modernism has exterminated all the living forms in art, and has hermetically closed up the art process within the boundaries of a simple-minded dialectics, never giving a chance to penetrate inside to anything that is connected with the emotional or spiritual experience of the human being. It was going even further and has become, actually, a totally dead mechanical mental construction for a nihilistic game of the straying in the aberration, human mind, which insensibly for itself has rejected the human soul as an unnecessary old fashioned feature of the slow-witted, narrow-minded "masses". It went on to totally forbid even the mentioning of the "transcendence" as the ultimate point of the human soul itself.


The 'new art' in the early 20th century: 'The Black Square', by Kazimir Malevitch (1915).


So, the philosopher Ortega y Gasset concluded: a "non-transcendence", a "dehumanization", a "striving to understand art as a game, no more", an "avoiding of the natural forms depiction" and a "deep irony", have become the main premises of this "new art". And he also stated: "As a symbol of the new art now becomes the magic flute of Pan, which forces the kids to dance at the edge of a forest". Here we have to notice that the last statement has obviously become a hidden joy of the servant of "Pan", which was happy to involve the art world in his darkness, barring the path to the transcendence, magic, at the same time pointing out some of the pagan images which had appeared in the art of the Renaissance period, thus attempting to attach the "new art" to something great. I must admit that Ortega y Gasset was a really sophisticated manipulator, and this trick of his has become quite effective.

Since the "new art", he wrote, was neither "popular", nor recognized by "folk", the philosopher made a conclusion that a society from now on will have to be forever separated between those who will understand such "new art", and on the other hand, those who will never be able to do this. Proceeding from the fact that already in his time the "European Enlightenment" postulate of the "equality of people" was recognized as an outdated concept, the author announced the existence of the two newly established classes of society, divided by the sign of understanding or non-understanding of this "new art": "Two orders, or ranks - an order of the prominent people and an order of the unexceptional people". Additionally, offering a quote from the Bible: "Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you", he pointed to the so-called "unexceptional people" as being the "mules".

It is really amazing to see how the Biblical quote which applied to those people who cannot realize the spiritual, transcendental things as being the "mules, without understanding" was used against the spiritually adjusted and emotionally receptive, instead of to the opposite part--the spiritually aberrated, nihilistic "new art" representatives of the Modernism. They are the real "mules, without understanding" of the Holy Scripture. So, he tried to support the anti-spiritual statement by a spiritual one! This is a verbal trick with a purpose to sacralize the desacralized! The phrase has become a simple substitution of the notions, made by the proud, but spiritually ignorant man who confused not only himself, but a great many artists and art lovers who followed. If we wish to find a great example of obscuration by the perverted, but devious human mind, we have to recall this case.

Also, he proclaimed that from now on, the less the portrayed human being looks as a man or a woman, the more free is this new art from the "vile and utilitarian icon emotionality". He called the "new art" as a new "iconoclasm", a fight against the sacralization of the "image".


The Gothic Style: Madonna 'Belle Verriérre' from the window in the south side of the choir at the Chartres Cathedral (13th century).


Ortega y Gasset gave some historical examples of alleged similar cases in the world art history, where the contemporary Cubism "period of the art geometrism" and "iconoclasm", to when other ancient barbaric "geometric" and ""iconoclastic" styles were changed by some "searches for the new living natural shape" and then the trend changed itself to the opposite, etc. The same happened also during the Renaissance, after the times of the Gothic style.

Of course, he wished to say about the simple pendulum of mind principle, which was reflected in the influences on the development of the art history, swinging between the polarities, similar to the movements of a snake. However, he has only confused that art Modernism is striving to get rid of the "living shapes" in the same way that "the Renaissance art tried to escape the "nightmare the Gothic geometric canon". All is vice versa! Modernism is against the living and human, but Renaissance is for it!

Modernism and Renaissance are two opposing things: the first is a way toward "dehumanization" and "geometrization", while the other is a search for the living human shape, a humanization and a refusal of the geometrism of the Gothic style.

His attempt to attach the anti-spiritual and nihilistic "new art" of Modernism to the spiritual and religious art of Renaissance, as to a symbol of the new greatest art, is understandable (the same tricks are practiced by the present adepts of this already quite old "new art"!). It is even significant that they look so hard for the authorities of the past to prove their own weak art-historical positions, that they cling to the prestigious time-proved things like religion and great art , but it doesn't prevent them from the obviously illogical and plainly dishonest look of the manipulators. Of course, it is possible to imagine that Ortega y Gasset had hoped to present a similarity between Modernism and the Renaissance art movements in a certain loss or a refusal of the spiritual. That is typical for all the adepts of the "new art"! He, like all of them wished to see that Renaissance would have a lesser connection to the Transcendence than the Gothic, and that it is almost like their "new", dehumanized "art", but he again made an easy mistake. The point is that in spite of the fact that the Renaissance movement had a sort of an addition to the mainstream Catholic Christian teaching of certain patterns of Greek-Roman pre-Christian, as well as Hermetic doctrines, it still had the brightest transcendentalist's features; it still said about the divine in man, but already in the perfect living human body! So Renaissance brought more of human emotionality, passion, sensuality and sexuality to art--precisely those factors that were unacceptable for Modernism.


The Renaissance style: Madonna Litta by Leonardo da Vinci (1490)


So, there is no legitimate way to connect Modernism to Renaissance, based only on Modernity's own proclamations that both styles could be viewed as revolutionary. Those art revolutions had different, and completely opposing directions!

The era of the Modern in the history, as well as Modernism in art is a totally new situation, which cannot be compared to any previous periods. For the first time in the world history, the common man of the "masses" of the great "Archaic" period of the Pre-Modern, got a chance to become more educated than a priest, a bishop or a King. Of course, it has become a result of the work of the European educational institutes. So, a talented and cultural man, even being a representative of a low social status could get a right for own opinion and own answers to the existantional questions. And if in the 15th century it was possible only for the unique geniuses like Leonardo, from now on, the way is opened for the social majority. So, the "modern man" got own will to act and his own, non-tribal or confessional intellect.

It has never happened before in the history of mankind, even if one goes back to the shamans of the Paleolithic era. But the lonely "modern" mind without the "archaic" religious system and control has very soon become too proud and "objectified". The Modern state of society brought about a great progress in science, and in this sense it has become a very positive phenomenon; but at the same time in many cases it has become a total aberration, and cut off of the human soul from the Transcendent, which is an impasse for the spiritual evolution of the person. This is what we can see in the Modernism. Modernism is a spiritual dead end!



The 'new art' in 1960s: 'Pink Lady' by Willem de Kooning (1965).


On reflection, Ortega y Gasset obviously jumped to our times, when Post-Surrealistic styles (Mystical Realism, Visionary Art, Fantastic Realism) are fighting for survival not only with the "nightmare" of today old fashioned Cubistic "geometrism", but with the all derivations of art, which as own source has a "dark night of the soul", a separation from the Transcendence. The new spiritual Visionary Art is trying to remain alive under a heavy pressure of the heritage of the Dehumanization--which is today represented by the "Contemporary art"--to keep the new spiritual in the "living shapes" of the total anthropology. Of course, it is not the same, but still looks somewhat as it was in the time of the Renaissance!

To avoid confusion due to similarly sounding words, I must recall that "Modern" is a period of philosophical and social consciousness, but "Modernism" is a movement in art. ("Art Modern" is an art style, also called "Art Nouveau" or "Jugendstil", etc).

Similarly,"Post-modern" is a philosophical and social system of views, but "Post-modernism" is a period in art. ("Contemporary art" is an art style).

So, today, not a Modernism with its initial dehumanization, but already a Post-Modernism with its total refusal of any plot and sense, has become an obsolete, almost a medieval totalitarian canon, more moody and jealous in defence of it's postulates, than Gothic to its own.

"Contemporary art" of Post-Modernism has been randomly "citating" some elements of the art inventions and discoveries of the great art styles of the past. It itself produces nothing, except of the naked irony, as well as "citating" of own "art citations" in progression up to the number of Pi.

Post-Modernism today recalls the ever ironic "Pan", which "deep humor" has exhausted in Modernism and in the stage of Post-Modernism has come to an complete marasmus.

Returning to José Ortega y Gasset, who had found a very good quotation from the Holy Bible, "Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you", we already clearly see a totally opposite sense of that one which he wished to illustrate and corroborate! So, a "non-transcendence", a "dehumanization", a "striving to understand an art as a game, no more", an "avoiding of the natural forms depiction" and a "deep irony" have become the main premises to be the "mule, without understanding "of the spiritual and the divine. These are the premises of the aberrant mechanical consciousness of the most vile and stupid animal, mentioned in the Bible's Psalm .

I also believe that the idea of Ortega y Gasset's to divide the society into "two classes, or ranks--a class of prominent people and a class of unexceptional people"--is great, but it has to be applied completely the other way around!

The real art aristocracy--the "prominent people" are those who understand and accept the transcendence of the divine in the human soul and the immanence in the "natural living forms", reflected in true art. The art plebeians--the "unexceptional people" are the "mules" who have no such gift of the divine.

It is good to mention that not all artists in the recent art history worship the Baal of the Dehumanzation, de-spiritualization and exclusion of the Transcendence in art. God always keeps those ten righteous men, who will save the town from the ultimate annihilation! About this, in the next installment.





"The Dehumanization of Art" and "Mules, without understanding" (PART 2): AN ALTERNATIVE TO MODERNISM, by Oleg Korolev


Oleg Korolev is a Russian Mystical, Religious and Visionary artist, painter. His art works have been on display in private and corporate art collections in Russia, Europe, North America and Australia. The official site of Oleg Korolev: http://www.koro-art.com






© PROMETHEUS 151/2010

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 151, January 2010