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YURI BOREV

AESTHETICS

AESTHETICS: THE MORPHOLOGY OF ART
The Branches of Artistic Creation: The Science of Their System

THE HISTORICAL DYNAMICS OF THE ARTS

Social Demand and the Development of the Arts

The arts form a historically dynamic system. It is necessary not only to identify the features of every element in that system, i.e. every branch of art, but also to trace their historical evolution and their changing interaction bearing in mind the following:
the influence of literature as the verbal basis of artistic culture on the other arts;
the time of the emergence of every branch of art, the intensity of its being, its social functioning and impact at a given historical period;
the historical change of social demand for various arts;
the nature of divergences between the arts (separation from one another, acquisition of unique specific features, irreplaceability, advantages and limitations) and merger (the process of synthesis and diversification of the various arts);
the fact that every historical period produces a dominant art (i.e. one that most fully corresponds to the social and artistic demands of the given period, the most popular and having the broadest audience) and the most representative art (i.e. one that most fully represents the artistic culture of a period to succeeding periods).
The branches of art are also determined by the life material on which they are based and the historical nature of the personality who creates them. Like every kind of activity artistic creation objectifies man's essential powers in their concrete-historical originality. The originality is manifested in all the main functions of artistic activity, i.e. the cognition, appraisal, creation and communication with the world, as well as in self-knowledge, self-assessment, self-creation and self-communication (inner communication) of the subject, i.e. the artist's self.
While formal searches, the discovery of new artistic means, and (he eternal desire to probe the unknown are inherent in art, the main spring of artistic evolution lies elsewhere. It is social demand and the degree to which a given branch of art is capable of satisfying that demand. The evolution of painting and sculpture provides ready examples. The soaring heights they achieved in the Renaissance period were the result of demand for visual arts.
Primitive peoples knew well the anatomy of animals. In cave drawings the portrayals of animals are amazingly accurate and reveal deep knowledge of the structure of their bodies and habits. To kill an animal it was necessary to know its vulnerable spots and its ways; to dress the killed animal it was necessary to know its structure, and the actual process of dressing was an object lesson in anatomy. His constant hunting activity made the primitive artist a superb animalist. In recording the tribe's hunting experience, the artist helped himself and his fellow tribesmen to gain a more accurate knowledge of the object of its vital interests. The utilitarian aspect, as usual, preceded the aesthetic, and utility gave birth to beauty, while beauty helped to derive more benefits from nature and know more about it.
The antique artist was conversant not only with the anatomy of the animal but also with that of man. The bringing up of a brave and strong warrior involved gymnastics, music and the visual arts which were sensitive to the beauty and strength of the human body. The Olympic Games and the sculptural figures of heroes performed similar social-aesthetic functions. The slave-owning democracy needed a warrior, a defender of Hellas who was able to procure slaves for its economic reproduction and development. The interest of the Greek visual arts in the strength and beauty of the human body had deep concrete-historical roots.
Medieval visual art scrutinized the inner world of man, and tried to penetrate into his spirit. Human flesh was no longer significant in itself. The beauty of the nude body was replaced by the cult of a body draped in heavy materials reaching to the heels. The monk's habit was the most characteristic garment of the Middle Ages. It made man shapeless, robbing the figure of its outlines. Art was still blind to the anatomical differences between the grown-up and the child. In medieval painting Christ the infant was just a small grown-up.
Renaissance revived the cult of the nude body stressing not only its beauty and power, but also its sensual attractiveness. The joy of living, intellectual and sensuous pleasure informed the Renaissance art which celebrated the female body, shown as virtuous by Giorgione, as luxuriant by Rubens, earthly and heavenly by Titian, and spiritual by El Greco.
Renaissance painters became attentive to the anatomical difference of age. They identified and accurately reproduced the proportions of the child, grown-up and old person and discovered the dynamic anatomy of man in movements of various tempos and abruptness at various angles and directions.
Leonardo da Vinci thus summed up the leading role of painting in the arts of the Renaissance period: "When on King Mathew's birthday a poet presented him with a work praising the day when the King was born for the good of the world, and the painter gave him a portrait of his beloved, the King immediately closed the poet's book, turned to the painting and fixed his gaze on it with great admiration. The poet was very angry and said, 'Oh, king, read on, and you will become aware that it is a subject more profound than the mute painting.' On hearing himself being admonished for contemplating mute objects, the King said, 'Oh, poet, be silent, for you do not know what you are saying: the picture serves a better feeling than your work, which is intended for the blind. Give me something I could see and touch, and not only hear, and do not blame my choice for having put your work under my elbow and holding the painting in my hands and training my eyes on it: my hands themselves wanted to serve a more worthy sense than hearing.' I believe the relationship between the science of the artist and the science of the poet should be the same as that existing between the corresponding senses of which they are objects." These are the words not only of an artist who prefers his own occupation to others, but also of a theorist who is keenly aware of the leading place of painting in the arts of the Renaissance period. The anti-ascetic, anti-scholastic, humanistic thrust of the period, its rejoicing in the splendours of life, its spiritual and sensuous delights could best and most fully be expressed in painting. Geniuses always appear in those areas of social practice where they are most needed. It is not by chance that Renaissance produced such great painters as Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens and Titian.
Social demand propelled the visual arts to the summits of the human spirit. The same mechanism could be found to be at work in other branches of art.

The Historical Trend Towards the Divergence of the Arts

The history of the arts is the history of their divergence, their acquisition of specific features. This can be seen in the relationship between painting on the one hand, and drawing and literature on the other.
The underlying basis of painting is the aesthetic sense of colour, the most elementary and popular sense. Painting isolated that sense and made it one of the means of interpreting the world. But that did not happen overnight; for centuries painting and drawing developed as genres of a single visual art. There was no distinction between them, painting being just colour drawing.
Drawing preceded painting. Man learnt to record the outlines and plastic forms of objects before he was able to reproduce their colours and shades. The mastering of colour was a protracted process and not all colours were mastered at once. The ancient Greeks did not know the difference between blue and green, for example.
The Renaissance artists discovered spatial perspective, which was a gain both for painting and drawing. Man became aware not only of the shape and colour of objects but also of their relative position in space. In ancient art the objects were arranged not in physical but in mental space. To accent the importance of an object its size was increased in the first attempt to create compositional accents in painting which later developed into full-fledged principles of composition.
The syncretism of the ancient visual arts brought painting closer not only to drawing but also to literature, as witnessed by the narrative character of ancient painting. Ancient Chinese and Egyptian paintings gave an account of events that unfolded into a chain of scenes and figures, portraying a sequence of episodes. The tradition of narrative held longest in icon painting.
In the course of its subsequent evolution painting becomes an art in its own right that cannot be replaced by any other art. The Renaissance period marked an important stage in that process. And yet the thought of painters did not then become fully distinct from that of poets. Painting and poetry as late as the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries can hardly be distinguished in their theoretical premises.
The theorists of the 17th and 18th centuries tended to identify poetry and painting and did not record the differences between them.
The distinctions between poetry and visual art were first profoundly analysed by Lessing. These distinctions were the result not only of the development of theoretical thought but also of the artistic process itself, one of whose trends is enhancing specific distinctions between individual arts.
The late 19th century witnessed the growing divergence of painting and drawing. Painting is closely associated with colour: it records the diverse colours of the world as its aesthetic richness and it reveals the essence of objects and determines their social significance and value in colour and through colour. Painting and drawing became fully distinct types of art at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Impressionist painting is fundamentally different from drawings. It conveys nothing outside colour and treats all linear considerations as secondary. Not the drawing, not the narrative but the colour relationships of the objects portrayed are the main vehicles of the aesthetic meaning of painted works. In this way painting separated itself from drawing and from literature.

The Historical Trend Towards Interaction and Synthesis of the Arts

The history of art, along with the growing divergence and individualization of the branches of art, is witness to a reverse process, viz., the growing interaction and synthesis of the arts which acquire an independent and individual nature. And the process of their synthesis may take a growing number of forms. The study of the historically changeable typology is essential to the building of a dialectical rather than a merely classificatory morphology of art.
Syncretism was a particular kind of synthesis characteristic of ancient art. In that form of synthesis different arts form an organic whole and have not yet branched off from the single primeval historical tree of culture which included, in each of its phenomena, not only the embryo of various branches of artistic activity but also of scientific, philosophical, religious and moral consciousness. The second form of synthesis in the arts is subordination in which one art dominates another. Such relationships began to take shape in ancient architecture which interacted with monumental sculpture, painting and mosaic. Architecture dominates in that synthesis.
Sometimes even literature enters into a relationship of subordination to architecture in the shape of an inscription (poetic extract, literary quotation, etc.). There is at least one case of the subordination of music to architecture: a Burmese pagoda hung with bells which create a silvery cloud of the lightest and gentlest tinkling around it.
Another form of synthesis in the arts is a collage of pieces of different arts, as in the medieval mysteries and, in the 20th century, in the Laterna Magica shows in Czechoslovakia.
The fourth form of synthesis in the arts is symbiosis, in which various arts interact on an equal basis merging to produce something new. Thus opera, which became popular in the 18th-19th centuries, is a symbiosis of drama and music. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the birth of the variety show in which literature, music, ballet, theatre, circus, etc. join together on an equal basis. Variety is a mass entertainment addressed to a "mixed" audience. The aesthetic impact it produces has a wholeness about it that makes it possible to talk about the birth of a new art from the equal coexistence of several arts.
The fifth form of synthesis in the arts is a dissolving of one art in another without either being directly represented in the final result, or only in an indirect form. Such is the relationship between literature and choreography in ballet. The literary basis of ballet (the libretto, the plot) is undoubtedly important, but in the final result – the ballet performance – the main element of literature, the word, is not represented. That form of synthesis did not develop until the 18th century.
In the sixth type of synthesis, concentration, one art draws on other arts while remaining itself and preserving its artistic nature. For example, photography integrates the experience of painting and drawing without being dissolved in them, the cinema draws on the artistic means of painting, drawing, theatre, literature, etc. This kind of synthesis is to be found in such a synthetically rich type of art as the theatre which interacts with music, literature, painting, architecture, choreography and later with photography, cinema, etc. In spite of all this, the theatre retains its basic character.
In the seventh type of synthesis one art becomes the vehicle for another. This is particularly well illustrated by television, and also in cinema and photography which relate the artistic results of the theatre, variety, ballet and other arts with varying degrees of completeness and effect.
The last two types of synthesis are especially characteristic of modern times and appear mainly in the "technical" arts of the 20th century, i.e. cinema, television and photography.

Literature: The Verbal Basis of Artistic Culture and the Leading Art

The theoretical implication of the much used phrase "literature and the arts" is not always clearly understood. Literature is an art along with the theatre, sculpture or choreography. And yet it would not occur to anyone to speak of, say,"theatre and the arts". Apparently literature is "the first among equals" and even, in a way, something more than just art if it is so strangely singled out in the overall structure of artistic culture. How do literature and the arts relate to each other? What in that relationship is historically stable and substantive and what is transient? Are literature and art a kind of opposition or are they unequal parts of a single whole? What do they have in common and what differentiates them from each other?
All these questions are the first to be asked and the last to be answered when it comes to the problem of the branches of art and the structure of artistic culture as a whole.
The clue to the universal and all-pervading character of literature lies in the universal, all-embracing and pervasive character of the "natural" language used by literature, its social complexity and its infinite and hourly expansion and enrichment, its daily link with the life experience and social practice of the people. Its power and at the same time its limitations prevent literature from filling all the spheres of culture, for all its universality. Leo Tolstoy noted that it is impossible to describe a person, it is only possible to describe how he struck one. In other words, literature cannot rival painting in visual representation, it has other goals and potential.
The word is the expressive means and the thought form of literature, the sign system of its imagery. The word is inherently geared to the image. The historical process of the development of the natural language has saturated it with images and has prepared it for associative cognition of the world in images. In the beginning was the word – this is what the Bible says about the creation of the universe. The universe of art has certainly been created in this way: in the beginning was the word.
The writer extracts his construction material – words – not from the larders of nature but from the depths of the national spirit. Unlike clay, paints, film stock and other media used in sculpture, painting, cinema, etc. the construction material of literature (the word) is not only socially pre-processed and "humanized" (the latter is partly true of clay and paints, etc.) but is socially loaded. The word carries social content even before it is put in among other words, within an art context and has been invested with unique meaning in the literary work. Only the musical sound is akin to the word in its artistic function, but the musical sound itself has historically appeared from the word, i.e. from the intonational system of speech.
In a certain sense then, music too owes its origins to literature. Literature is no less important for other arts. The aesthetic ideals and mode of life, which go a long way to determine types of architecture, depend on literature's verbal form. Mythological and literary plots and motifs lie at the basis of the plots, composition and artistic conception of many works of painting, sculpture, theatre, ballet, opera, programme music, etc.
Artistic culture, then, has a verbal basis: literature exerts the determining (system-forming) influence on all arts, and the artistic images created in other arts are perceived in its context. The perception of all the arts presupposes a level of literary culture, the ability to "superimpose", compare the literary basis against the art text offered by a particular branch of art. Some scholars, while recognizing that literature played the dominant role among the arts in the past, believe that the situation has now changed. The development of cinema and television, they maintain, makes visual non-verbal information quantitatively prevalent and qualitatively determining. One of the proponents of this theory, Marshall McLuhan, divides the history of culture into three periods: at the first stage oral verbal information is predominant, at the second stage, verbal written information, and at the third stage, visual information. It is true that the role of visual information has today increased many times. But literature still preserves its determining significance as the verbal basis of all artistic culture, including visual culture.
Literature's subject tends to expand. It now includes within its purview the world of nature, social life and the state of the individual's soul. Literature handles this material through different genres either as dramatic reproduction of reality, or narrative or lyrical confession.

The Predominant Branch of Art and Its Historical Changeability

Every historical period has a predominant branch of art which most adequately meets its social and aesthetic needs. It changes from one historical period to another due to the changing needs and the social subject which exerts an influence on progress in art (the allocation of resources and concentration of mental effort on particular branches and areas of artistic culture). When an art comes within the focus of public attention that creates advantages for its development and is evidence of increased demand for it.
In the antique world the aesthetic taste of the demos expressing the artistic needs of the free citizens was the main force in artistic development that determined which arts would be prevalent. Theatrical performances and other mass artistic cultural activities provided the widest scope for spontaneous expression of that taste. The artistic demand of antique democracy oriented art towards popular appeal and stimulated those types of art which addressed themselves to all the citizens of the polls. That is why the most developed arts at the time were sculpture, theatre and architecture.
In the Middle Ages the church became the subject determining the evolution of art. The leaning towards the exhalted and the ideal, belonging to heaven rather than to earth, was most dramatically manifested in cathedral architecture and in icon painting. The striving towards the sky visually translated itself into the shapes of Gothic cathedrals. Architecture became the art which had priority claim on material and technical resources and its development was encouraged in every way. The prevalence of architecture in the system of medieval artistic culture was theoretically validated and affirmed by the aesthetics of the time. Thus, St. Augustine stressed the supremacy of architecture over painting because the latter "tied a person to things and removed him from the Creator". The architecture of cathedrals formed a synthesis with painting (icons) and music (church singing, masses and hymns).
The Renaissance period gave birth to the institution of patrons of the arts, a way of the engagement of art by the aristocracy. Visual arts were the most frequently patronized ones. The Renaissance demand for challenging the ascetic attitudes of the Middle Ages was most fully met by visual, sensuously pleasing images of painting and sculpture.
In the period of classicism, the monarchist state became the directing force in art. The centre of its attention shifted to theatre and the main form of its influence on artistic culture development is the prescriptive aesthetics of classicism. Its requirements are cast in artistic norms that reflect in a specific way the socio-political principles and demands of the court.
The social influences behind the art of the enlightenment, sentimentalism and romanticism became more complex and mediate. In the final analysis its subject was the bourgeoisie, but the engagement of art in the sphere of its interests assumed sophisticated forms. Often philosophical and aesthetic influence on an artist went hand in hand with the latter's economic interest. Literature and theatre came to the focus of social attention because they were capable of expressing views on the world in the most direct way. Realistic art developed on a broad democratic social basis. Its motive force was the third estate, and later sometimes the peasantry with all its strong and weak sides and contradictions. Art criticism became the main form by which society influenced realist art. Literature became the dominant art.
The art of socialist realism expressed the interests of the proletariat and later, the interests of socialist society. The Communist Party in the USSR became the guiding force in the development of culture. It exerts its directing influence on art in various forms: the education of artistic intelligentsia, notably young artists, moral and material encouragement of socially valuable trends, art criticism. The focus of interest is on the arts with the biggest audience: literature, cinema and more recently television.
So, at different periods different arts were at the centre of social interest. The social subject that engaged artistic culture has changed from one period to another and so have the forms of regulation. Accordingly, the art which most fully met the socio-artistic demands of the period became dominant.

Representative Arts and Their Historical Evolution

Artistic culture is transmitted both "horizontally" (within a given society and each concrete period) and "vertically", i.e. to succeeding periods and generations of men. The type of art most adequately performing the role of historical transmission is called representative. The representativeness of an art depends on its ability to express most fully the essence of contemporary artistic culture and transmit it to the following stages of social development. The world changes, and the new "historical-cultural quality" is more adequately expressed by another type of artistic culture and a more representative branch of art moves into the foreground. The representative function of a branch of art ensures the continuity of the cultural tradition and helps a new historical period to find its cultural identity. The arts do not only reflect reality and human practice but artistically represent the concrete historical essence of the individual. A work of art demostrates to man his human qualities and, to the extent that this demonstration pinpoints the most characteristic features of a given socio-cultural situation, one can say that this or that art is representative in the above sense.
Every new historical period in artistic culture tries to identify a representative branch of the art of a past period with the dominant art. Sometimes the two happen to coincide (for example antique sculpture). But it is not always the case that an art which most fully represents its historical period in the eyes of the succeeding periods (representative) is the branch of art that is most popular and vigorous in its time and in its society (dominant art). The theatre of classicism was the dominant art of the classicist period. It was at the focus of Boileau's aesthetics, it was the main artistic preoccupation of the court, and it best met the artistic demands of the public. But one gets the most complete idea about the classicist period not from theatre but from literature because a stage production does not last and is impossible to preserve adequately over a long historical period.
The dominant and most popular art of today is television. But television has yet to create its classics by which future generations could judge about the spirit and the essence of the present historical period. The representative function is being much more effectively fulfilled by the cinema and literature.
A representative art must have classical specimens because they alone are relevant to future periods and convey "vertically" (i.e. through history) the spirit of a time and the essence of a culture. The universal human significance of artistic work – which is inherent in its nature – is realized through the representative quality of art.

Technological Advances and Prospects for the Interaction of the Arts

The development of technology and the mass media is directly influenced by aesthetic demand. Television, for example, has arisen due to the need to record the facts and events of contemporary life in an immediate way and interpret them ideologically and artistically. Of the many demands catered to by television, it is these that have stimulated its birth. However, in spite of improved television pictures (greater resolution and size of frame and improvements in colour television), the modern state of the small screen does not yet quite match the demands which produced it in the first place. TV pictures do not yet adequately reflect reality because they are not three-dimensional. The aesthetic demands which have brought forth television have continued to stimulate its development, the birth of colour (a new step towards making the TV frame more realistic) and the current efforts to develop three-dimensional colour television. The technical principles of three-D television have already been found. They are holography in combination with stereo sound. It now remains to put these ideas into practice.
What will artistic culture gain with three-dimensional television?
In the first place, there is a large area of art which can only be adequately shown on three-dimensional television (sculpture, architecture and theatre). Painting, which builds its perspective on a flat canvas, suffers from the imperfections of colour on TV and not from lack of three dimensions. But sculpture, architecture and theatre lose a great deal from the flatness of TV pictures. 3D television will provide these arts with a more accurate vehicle and a means of conservation in time.It would have been far easier to restore the Old Square and the Royal Castle in Warsaw or the unique Petrodvoretz destroyed during the last war if three-dimensional television pictures of them had been available. It is a fascinating prospect, too, for every man to be able to go on a three-dimensional television tour through the streets of Moscow, Paris or Rome.
Such exposure to the national art treasures of other peoples would open great opportunities for the aesthetic perception and assimilation of world culture.
Stereo television will also open new vistas for music and theatre because television will then be able to reproduce them in a situation close to that in which they are traditionally perceived in the concert hall or theatre. There will remain only one (technically not insuperable) obstacle for a fully adequate perception on TV, and that is the absence of feedback from the audience to the performer. The holographic image on TV will enhance the "presence" effect of any programme. And then not only artistic but also topical and news programmes would have an aesthetic impact.
The bridging of the gap between reality and the way it is shown on television is not without its dangers, however. The positive sides (the growing "presence" effect, the involvement of the viewer, the documentary and convincing character of programmes and the deepening of their impact) go hand in hand with the negative sides (the approximation of television pictures to the status of unconditional reality eliminates awareness of the convention that underlies every art).
Presented with television pictures that are indistinguishable from reality the viewer may get the illusion of being present and being involved in all the events of the world while remaining absolutely passive. There is a danger of the viewer becoming too contemplative and civically inactive, realizing all his potential in "playing out" a life-like situation brought to him by television. And one cannot rule out that some viewers may be tempted to react directly, not to life but to its picture on the TV. Only true art can provoke in the viewer a moral and aesthetic experience and philosophical and political thoughts that lead him to be active in real situations and not only with regard to the events on the screen. All this suggests that the growing naturalness of TV pictures must go along with emphasis on the conventions inherent in every art. Verbal means may play an important role in that. The spoken word would be able to restore and provide the necessary measure of convention in a perfectly life-like picture. That is why the word will probably play an important new role in future television. This is a further argument to prove the fallacy of McLuhan's predictions about the future "visual" civilization. The growing role of visual images in man's life due to television will be increasingly offset by the verbal element. In other words, along with the appearance of holographic television there will emerge a new synthesis of television and literature whose leading role with regard to other arts will be further increased in the future. The birth of sound-recording marked a breakthrough in the history of music whose consequences have yet to be fully understood. For the first time in the history of musical culture sound recording made it possible to multiply and store a musical work.
That has introduced a new mediating link between the composer and the listener. In addition to the earlier intermediate link (the performer) there is another one represented by the disc and the magnetic tape which can record and play back a musical performance.
The character of a performance in the recording studio changes. In addition to the existence of the new intermediate link the performer has to take into account such factors as the absence of direct exposure to the audience and the "averaging" of the character of a performance aimed at the anonymous listener. Discs, tapes and microphone have created new trends in musical performance and accompaniment: the wish to "shout one's way through" to the "invisible" audience by simplifying artistic form and raising the sound volume; pop art trends; "voiceless" singing; and simplification of the lyrics in pop songs to the point of vulgarity.
These processes are bound to affect the fate of musical classics in the age of piped sound. In the first place classical music has gained a larger audience and lost its aura of elitism. Records and other forms of sound recording have made the performance of musical classics more democratic, opening up wide opportunities for their popularization.
Stereo culture has become part of the modern artistic culture invading the sphere of leisure, which is all the more important in view of the growing amount of leisure available. Sound recording as a mass medium has an analogue in such audio-visual media as the cinema and television. The recording, copying and storage of music have brought new elements to the interaction and synthesis of music with other arts (cinema, theatre and television). Recorded sound culture has great untapped potential in the non-musical field: the recording of readings, plays, literary compositions, etc. Some progress in that direction can already be reported. Recorded sound is becoming part of everyday life: morning exercises on radio, the reading of fairy tales for children, recorded foreign language courses, etc.
Further improvements and expansion of the technical range of sound recording (better quality, wider frequencies, long-playing records, sets and albums of records, etc.) enhance its artistic impact. There are recordings of operas, ballets, large symphonic works, concerts, etc. Advances in sound recording have led to stereo sound. There are increasing possibilities for colour-music.
Sound recording plays an important role in terms of handing down artistic culture "vertically": it enables great musical performers to be recorded for the future generations. A new technical and cultural challenge and perspective is the "restoration" of the stereo sound from the mono recordings of Chaliapine, Caruso and other great musicians made before the stereo age.
Recorded sound also plays an important "horizontal" cultural function by bringing the best musical performances to the remotest corners of the world. Recorded sound offers broad new opportunities for aesthetic education.

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