Man's longing for immortality expresses itself in many forms. The most fundamental possibility is, without a doubt, to live on in his children and his children's children. Man would not be aware of the succession of Being and Becoming were it not accompanied by certain favorable circumstances.
Among these are art, culture and their subsequent development. From among the countless people who remain nameless, women and men alike, whose thoughts and deeds have created, piece by piece, the vast civilization which we know today, from these people come the great figures who, through their cultural works, have been known to us for centuries. If we look back to times gone by, we perceive that every century, in addition to its lowest lows, also exhibits brilliant high points in its artistic creations.
Painter, sculptor, poet, musician--not always given the recognition they deserved during their lifetime--created works which are timeless because of the profound effect and fascinating hold they have on humanity.
Just as, in the history of mankind, the figures of Adam and Eve are the origin and point of departure for human existence, so has man been the focal point for the fine arts from their outset until today.
This hidden longing in us for beauty and harmony expresses itself in everyday life and at almost all levels of society in a love for the physical and the beautiful. I do not find the phrase "body-and-beauty cult" to be nearly as deprecatory as it is meant to be. In reality, it is an inner call in us which any normal, feeling human being is neither able or willing to deny.
It is this feeling which leads the individual to an appreciation of art, especially sculpture in the classical tradition. It is the sculptors--more so than the painters--who alone know how to immortalize the message of the beautiful, due to the enduring quality of the material. The marble, stone and bronze works which we know from the antiquity of western culture overpowers us in its often erotic beauty, which is offered up to the altar of the divine.
Only those sculptors who feel humility before the divine, and who have a love for form and a need for perfection and beauty, will be able to give form to these feelings.
There are only a few who are still known to us. We think of the legendary Phidias and the Christian occident and the much more revered, grandiose Michelangelo. Arno Breker is without a doubt a legend in his own time among sculptors of the classical tradition. This man, as old as the century, is a rock among the breakers of fine art. His theme is man and woman, you and I, the miracle of creation, namely the human being. That he remained true to this ideal image of man in his works, I do not consider planned or calculated. No, Breker is the medium of an inexplicable power and has been given the task of glorifying man.
How he does that, or must do that, will outlive all the criticism and storms of our time. What is the power in the work of Arno Breker?
The manual skills are an instrument used to shape and form what Breker completely comprehends and values. "An empty sack will not stand up," runs the proverb in another context. I want to say: "A spiritually empty man cannot create works of art which grip, impress and enchant millions all over the world."
Arno Breker is equally as much a sculptor of women as he is of men. The forms which he creates, the portraits, reliefs and sculptures, do not require a complicated interpretation.
They say: Here I am. Observe me at your pleasure. Breker's sculptures may not please everyone. That is only natural. Everyone has the right to discover weaknesses and find elements that bother him, in Breker's work as well as that of other artists.
One thing we know already today when we look at Breker's sculptures: In the last analysis, the often controversial discussion about works of art concerns the malicious critics and not the masterful work of art. At most, it could be forgotten, only to resurface after a time, to have an even greater effect, the way we admire with unlimited reservation the treasures from the graves of Chinese emperors, from the pharaoh's empires and naturally from Greece or the Mediterranean area, as did the so-called warriors of Riacce some time ago.
What is the secret behind the sculptures of Arno Breker? I find that his use of living models is of great significance. Not this alone, because Breker has also mastered the necessary manual skills, but because he "punctuates" his works.
He forms a modern-day woman. An important female athlete or a "girl from the street," a schoolgirl, a student. He sculpts the body of a top athlete or that of a slim young soldier.
When Arno Breker forms the clay, it is not merely the figure of a man or a woman which arises. No! It is THE man or THE specific woman from a decade of our century.
Where is the artist in the 20th century among sculptors, who in such steadfastness and such loyalty could have written the "Hymn of Beauty" as Arno Breker has done?
This is equally true of the message which he communicates through his own hands in his portraits. Busts of persons cannot be as an artist concocts them. Anyone who makes such a claim is no portrait artist. He would be wiser to pursue abstract art. Bread must be bread, wine must taste like wine. The portrait of a man, of a woman, must be a likeness and a vision, if it is to have information and a message for future generations. Breker has this gift. The portrait which is formed by his hand tells us who this form is as a person as well as the intellectual capability, the sensitivity and the secrets that person holds. Prejudice against a portrait in the classical tradition is dangerous. Why?
Portraits are like a book. We can read them, provided that the observer understands the language in which the book was written.
Clarity of language and form has never been missing in Breker's works. The simple style of his sentences reinforce their meaning. Honesty and openness surprise and impress the visitor simultaneously. I can fully understand why, again and again, young people and the younger generation can relate to an artist who speaks so little of himself.
At my first meeting with Breker, I perceived that he belongs to those people for whom age is no barrier to youth. Arno Breker is 86 years old today, and will soon be 87. But he has remained young. Wonderful! Wow!
I visit a legend in his Düsseldorf studio. He comes to greet me in a turtle-neck sweater and checkered jacket. His hands are soft as silk, and mildly cool. His gray-blue eyes under bushy brows are as bright, as alive as a fountain. And when he talks, the brightness in his eyes breaks into velvety, sometimes painfully flickering lights.
I walk with him through the study, the garden, through his rooms, his studios. Here is soul, here is atmosphere, yes, in Arno Breker's house, the whole world is at home. I see this in his busts of artists, politicians, and writers from the USA, Europe and Japan.
Here art abides, far from the loud cries of the street. Enemies and envious people cannot reach this place. The hate and the feeble mockery have no more effect within these almost hallowed walls than a Fata Morgana. "When I climb the stairs to my studio and close the door behind me, I forget the world," Breker confesses to me in the hallway of his "Holy of Holies." There, draped under moist sheets, the figures which he will turn into works of art await him. "Faith alone in goodness will not produce goodness," says Breker. "We must also contribute something ourselves." I cannot contradict the master, for I am also of his opinion. "How can love bloom, where hate is sewn?" asks the master, as he begins to work on the bust. I nod silently. Then it becomes quiet in the room. A ray of sunshine falls through the studio window on a beautiful body made of plaster. "He caresses the harmony," I think to myself as I sit there. In the background, classical music sounds from two speakers. It is pleasantly still. The master at work. A magnificent experience.
Translated from the German by Lynne Kvinnesland.
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Copyright 2001 West-Art
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.