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YURI BOREV

AESTHETICS

AESTHETICS: THE THEORETICAL HISTORY OF ART
The Science of the Process of Art

THE LAWS OF HISTORICAL STAGES AND
THE STRUCTURE OF THE ART PROCESS

The Trend as an Artistic Concept

The art work is the most authentic and tangible reality in art. But a profound study of art is called upon to reveal not only the originality but also the qualities that the work shares with the work of other artists belonging to the same typological order, i.e. to reveal the mechanism that links that particular artist to a certain artistic school, current or trend.
The trend is a major category in the dialectics of art development. The trend manifests itself both through a body of work implementing certain declarations and through programmatic theoretical manifestoes. Sometimes the body of work programmatically oriented towards a new mode of artistic thinking is created within the context of the preceding school. For example, in the first quarter of the 19th century Russian literature was oriented on romanticism developed in the intellectual framework created by classicism. The opponents of a moribund trend often struggle not so much against its leading exponents as against the theories and manifestoes and against petty imitators. Subsequently polemics becomes directed against the entire trend (thus, Belinsky inveighs heavily against classicism as a whole). Theorists often come under the spell of a previous attitude to a given trend. In such instances the main target of their criticism is the dogmatized theory of the trend being dismantled.
The essence of an art trend is that it expresses the invariant (the unchanged entity) of the artistic conception of the individual and the world. An art trend is an objectivized method, a mode of artistic thinking which manifests itself in a certain type of artistic verity. The trend expresses the ideological aspects of the art process that have to do with world view. As an aesthetic category of the art process the trend reflects the real historical results of the interaction between tradition and innovation.
The artistic concept is expressed through a system of ideas fused with the system of plastic images that have a generalized meaning and impact. The main elements of the world reflected by art determine the historical type of structure given to artistic works and the essence of the artistic conception of the world. There are three main elements:
The individual: the conscious and the subconscious of the individual, his intuition, drives and passions, thoughts and feelings, goals and aspirations, ambitions and will, role "masks" and character.
Society: the social group and milieu, political party and class, nation and people, society and state, humanity.
Nature: the natural environment, "the man-made environment", and outer space which, when it becomes the object of art, inevitably raises the higher philosophical problems of being.
Art reflects how each of these elements of the world interacts with the individual, which accounts for a number of layers in a work of art: 1) man's inner interaction with himself; 2) man's communication with other men; 3) the social aspects of man's communications and relations; 4) the relation of the individual to the human race as a whole; 5) the natural environment of the individual; 6) "the second nature", the material culture surrounding the individual; 7) the individual's attitude to spiritual culture; 8) man and outer space. The artistic concept of the world expressed in the works of a given trend is realized in a typological model of the world which depends on the hierarchy of layers, i.e. which layer is dominant; in what sequence in relation to the dominant layer the other layers are arranged; which layers are absent in the structure of a work; how each of the layers present is treated.
In addition to the plastic model of ideas an artistic conception of the world includes non-plastic ideas (philosophical, political, moral, etc.).
Each time a unique typological artistic structure is formed which is varied in different currents and schools and in different works belonging to the given trend. But the basic framework of the structure remains and the art trend is an invariant (stable, constant element) of the artistic conception of the world.
To sum up then. A trend as a category of the artistic process emerges within the system of concrete works revealing the same typological model and is determined by the type of the artistic conception of the world and the invariant artistically interpreted state of the world. A change of artistic trends is the process of the change of the artistic conception of the world manifested through a change of the structural type of works of art. Every historical period produces its own dominant trend.
Medieval art was preoccupied with God and interpreted the Universe in relation to man. That trend was carried on by Dante whose artistic conception focused on the cosmos. The Divine Comedy offers a structure of the cosmos and assigns places in it to man and society (the dominant layer is the eighth one).
Renaissance placed the self-aware individual at the centre of the cosmos (the first layer predominates).
Classicism centred on the state to which man is subordinate (the third layer, i.e. the state, is dominant).
Romanticism was preoccupied with the inner world of the individual in his relationship with nature (the dominant layer elements are layer one, i.e. social consciousness, and layer five, i.e. the nature surrounding the individual).
Realism put at the centre of its works man and the nation, the individual and society (the dominant elements are layer one and partly layer three, i.e. the people and society).
In socialist realism the individual "is a droplet flowing with the masses" in "the iron flood" of history. Man as conditioned by history and at the same time as making history together with the people is the focal problem of socialist realism (the dominant element is layer three).
Thus leading aesthetic trends succeeded each other over history, and the typological structure of works of art and the artistic conception of the world contained in them changed.
One can now formulate the universal law of art's existence as a process. Art as a process is a developing system of artistic interactions (of different levels, kinds and types) progressing towards a higher type of artistic thought through historical succession of trends while preserving the intransient earlier values.
A correct grasp of the nature of a trend makes it possible to keep within one's purview the whole complexity of the development of art in the past and present: the artistic process does not completely coincide with the main trend of the historical period, it is richer than its dominant trend. A good deal in the artistic process is, as it were, in the melting pot, and the trend as a regularity of development pinpoints only those elements that have established themselves.

Art Periods and Trends in the Past

In the past the trend as a rule coincided with the art period. That ceased to be the case only in the late 19th century owing to the intensity of the art process and the pitched ideological and aesthetic battles waged within it. Let us consider the main art trends of the past which largely coincided with periods in the development of art. Scholars have not achieved unanimity on that problem. For example, some maintain that realism appeared in the Renaissance period while others consider it to be the child of the 19th century and still others again believe that realism is eternal and that all genuine art is realistic. The advocates of the last point of view cite ancient art which was already realistic. One could challenge this by saying that 1) it was a very special kind of realism (mythological realism), and 2) in the history of art conceptions of the world were advanced by classicism, sentimentalism, romanticism and other art trends.
Of course classicism and sentimentalism carried their own kind of artistic truth. But that does not warrant imputing elements of realism to these trends. Such an approach would be unhistorical and would ignore the fact that realism itself is a specific type of artistic truth characteristic only of certain periods. Identifying all the historically diverse types of artistic truth with realism in the final analysis leads to the erroneous concept of "realism without shores".
Antiquity explained the world through myth. It was at once a realistic and an illusory-fantastic view of the world, a spontaneously dialectical view. The mythological realism of antiquity espouses a heroic conception of man, asserts the unity of the individual and society, and harmony of the individual's inner world (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides). Philosophy, religious, scientific and ethical ideas were organic parts of Ancient Greek art. The antique hero is active and energetic. He is anything but a suffering individual at the mercy of history and fate. Although he bows to necessity and at times is unable to save his life, he fights, and necessity manifests itself only through his free actions.
Medieval art stripped the hero of the will for action and put him in the trust of God. Man is a passive creature, everything is ordained from above, the world is explained through God – such are the conceptual principles of medieval art. It is full of allegories and symbols (for example, the symbolic colours in Byzantine art, the allegoric nature of the sculptural figures at the Notre-Dame de Paris). The art of the Middle Ages is so replete with symbols that it could well be called allegoric-symbolic art. Two artistic trends developed within medieval symbolism – religious and secular art. The realism of the Renaissance marks a return at a new and higher stage to the basic features of antique art. It is a dialectical return enriched by the new ideas and artistic experience of mankind. The process that began as naively realistic and spontaneous perception of the world, having grown more complex and aesthetically enriched, returns to the realistic mode of thought.
The Renaissance period tries to explain the world through itself. The world needs no external explanation: it is not explained by evil fate, God, magic or evil spells. Supernatural forces are beside the point, the cause of the state of the world lies in itself. To show the world the way it is, to explain it from within, from its own material nature – this is the hallmark of the realism of Cervantes, Rabelais and Shakespeare.
Renaissance realism discovered the individual man and celebrated his power and beauty. Its hero is a titanic individual free in his actions.
The new conception of the world required a new theory and practice of the perspective, an artistic study of the anatomy of the human body (with reference to age, sex and movement), and prompted a search for compositional harmony and the use of colour accents to express the artist's attitude to the object of portrayal. Renaissance realism liberated the individual from medieval asceticism. The depiction of the nude body and female beauty was a potent and vivid argument in the struggle against asceticism. But this "permissive" liberation constituted both the strength and the weakness of Renaissance realism for it gave scope to all tendencies in man, both good and evil. Why does Shakespeare's lago weave a cobweb of intrigue against Othello? Scholars name various reasons: envy, careerism, jealousy, lust for gain, racial hatred of a black man, etc. So many motives are named because Shakespeare did not indicate a single one. lago is doing evil for no particular reason realising the principle of permissiveness in his own way. That revealed Shakespeare's awareness of the crisis of the Renaissance period. The baroque is an upshot of the crisis of the Renaissance ideals. While the humanists' doubt as to the value of life was but another side of their confidence that life is fruitful and important, the baroque artists turn that doubt into a credo, a concept of the vanity of human existence. The heroes of the baroque poets are exalted martyrs who have lost faith in the meaning and value of life. The artistic thinking of the baroque is over-complicated, at times mannered.
The French absolutism of the 17th century constrained the individual within the rigid regulations of statehood. The king became an intermediary as it were between the bourgeoisie and the nobility to prevent them from destroying each other. That national unity under the aegis of absolutism reconciled the irreconcilable and united what could not be united, sacrificing the individual to society.
The awareness of the conflict and the lack of historical prospect for resolving it was reflected in the art of classicism (Corneille, Racine, Moliere). Corneille's play Cid fully expresses the essence of classicism, permeated as it is with the tragic discord between the individual and society: the conflict between personal feeling and social duty. The hero of classicism is unfree in his actions and is subjected to rigid norms of social duty. The individual and his freedom are sacrificed to society and its institutions.
In medieval art the individual is subjected to God. In the art of the Renaissance he is subjected to himself. In classicism the hero acts freely but is aware of the social necessity as embodied by the king. The absolute monarch, unlimited in his powers, becomes an arbitrary force in the hero's life. Subordination of man to the interests of the state, mitigation of feelings by reason, sacrificing happiness and even the life of the individual to duty and following abstract norms of virtue – this is the aesthetic ideal of classicism.
The art of classicism is marked by civic awareness, concern with the interests of the state, faith in Reason, clarity of moral and aesthetic values. At the same time classicism is didactic. Its images are aesthetically monochromatic and not notable for intellectual and emotional scope, plasticity and many-sidedness. Writing is geared to one language register (the elevated style) and does not benefit by the riches of the vernacular. In its intellectual-aesthetic conception, classicism underestimated the role of the masses of the people, treating history as the result of the deeds of great personalities. A character from the common people was barred from such an "elevated" genre as tragedy. He could appear only in a comedy. Classicism's artistic conception of the world was rationalistic and unhistorical: it solved contemporary problems by invoking the material of Greece and Rome or material so abstract that time and place did not matter.
The realism of 17th-18th century Enlighteners was the heir to the rationalism of the classicists. The art of that period was influenced by the sharpening social struggles when the temporary unity of the bourgeoisie and the nobility under the aegis of absolutism was broken by the onslaught of the economically strengthened bourgeoisie on the positions of the aristocracy. In contrast to the wilful individualist of the Renaissance and the regimented subject of classicism, the hero that comes to the fore is a citizen who upholds freedom by political means. Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Lessing, Lesage, Beaumarchais, Voltaire, and Diderot praise reason and the naturalness of man. To them, the enlightenment of people by reason and knowledge is the answer to all social conflicts. That period was already marked by the capitalist division of labour that makes man "private" and "partial". The realism of the Enlightenment produced no titans to match those of the Renaissance period. In place of the powerful spirit and colossal intensity of human passions the hero exhibits dexterity, cleverness and enterprise, i.e. bourgeois virtues. Art becomes democratized and draws material from various social strata including the lower orders. Social life is an object of close scrutiny. The social and domestic novel becomes the leading genre in literature. Although the realism of the Enlightenment is concerned with the social essence of its characters it differs from critical realism in that it puts its typical characters in experimental and not typical circumstances. The realism of Enlightenment was directed against feudalism, absolutism and the aristocracy, and its critical thrust hardly affected the bourgeoisie.
Sentimentalism is an anti-rationalist trend which weepily admires the virtues of the positive characters and draws a sharp line between good and evil, the positive and the negative in life. Sentimentalism (Rousseau, Greuze, Karamzin) is addressed to reality, but unlike realism, it is unduly naive and idyllic in its treatment of the world. The complexity of life is mainly explained away by spiritual causes. Sentimentalist art is emotionally charged and mawkish.
The differences between the realism of the Enlightenment and Sentimentalism will readily be observed by comparing the painting manner of Chardin and Greuze. Chardin's realism is soberly rationalistic. His still lives express the bourgeois attachment to the world of things, to simple, solidly made and comfortable articles of daily use. Greuze is sentimental. He waxes lyrical over modest human virtues (the painting A Paralized Man, etc.). In the former case the structure of the artistic image is dominated by the rational and in the latter, the emotional element.
Romanticism was born of the atmosphere of storm before and after the bourgeois revolutions. It was a result of social hopes and disillusionment in the possibility of reordering society sensibly on the basis of freedom, equality and fraternity. Romanticism came up with the concept of the immortality of evil and eternal struggle against it: although by resisting evil man prevents it from establishing its absolute dominion over the world he cannot change the world radically and eliminate evil completely.
In romanticism, imbued with the poetry of subjectivity, idealization is the principle of generalization.
The world of romanticism is largely confined to the hero's spiritual world. The character carries in him the world's sorrow over its imperfection. It is not by chance that Heine wrote about his tragedy Almansor: "I have put in it my own 'self with my paradoxes, my wisdom, my love, my hatred and my madness." But in showing the hero's state of soul ("world sorrow") romanticism (Schiller, Heine, Byron, Shelly, Chateaubriand, Lermontov) made important comment on the state of the world.
Romanticism focussed on the individuality of the character divorcing itself from the real circumstances of his life. The romantic hero is plucked from the mundane life and put in extreme circumstances, and that makes him socially valuable. He stands proud and alone rejecting the imperfect world.
While romanticism merely sensed the imperfections of the new system established in the late 18th century, critical realism showed its basic inhumanity. The concept of romanticism allowed room for illusions about the new system; critical realism is a sober art of "lost illusions". The aesthetic ideals which were in most cases embodied in the positive hero of romanticism are, in realism, mediated through a whole system of images expressive of the artist's attitude to what he is portraying. Critical realism asserts the aesthetic ideal through negation. It is an indictment of the society which deprives man of freedom. It sees the mission of art in reproducing reality and pronouncing a verdict on it (Chernishevsky).

Critical Realism

Critical realism flourished in Europe beginning from the 1820s. That trend produced great names in France (Balzac, Stendhal), England (Dickens), and Russia (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov). In Russia, critical realism developed at an accelerated pace with shortened and overlapping cycles. That is, one sees the transition from romanticism to realism in the career of one and the same artist (Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol).
Capitalism, for the first time in human history, established a worldwide economic system and drew the most diverse aspects of life into the sphere of production. Accordingly, the object of art expands; the finest nuances of human psychology (psychological analysis), the life of people (social themes), nature (landscape) and the world of things (still life) all acquire social significance and aesthetic value. Man, the main object of art, has undergone profound changes. With the development of capitalism social ties have become universal and truly worldwide. There was not a cranny left in man's inner world that did not carry social significance and present interest to the artist. All these changes in reality brought forth a new type of artistic conception of the world as embodied in critical realism. It showed life in all its complexity, many-sidedness and diversity of aesthetic qualities in keeping with the social practice that had itself become more complex and rich.
The principle of critical realism is typiflcation; truthful details and the portrayal of typical characters in typical circumstances. Critical realism has exposed the inhumanity of a society which is a "dark kingdom", which turns its members into "the humiliated and the insulted", into "poor folk", and the suffering and disappointments of man into "an ordinary story". The sharp critical edge of the 19th-century realism puts satire and comedy into the forefront. The "divine comedy" of the world acquires a mundane character and becomes "the human comedy".
At that stage in its evolution realism discards the enlighteners' conception of the natural man and seeks to explain human essence by social life. Art searches intenselythe way for the development of man and humanity and upholds the humanistic ideal which considers man to be the supreme value. It does much to further the understanding of the meaning of human life and the complex interaction between man and nature, and to assert the historical responsibility of the individual. Art in the 20th century is confronted with an increasingly complex reality, with social catastrophes, the aggravating social contradictions, conflicts engendered by the current scientific and technological revolution, with global problems (political, ecological, moral) that affect the interests of the whole mankind, and accordingly it has an audience with new demands. Critical realism, which continues to be a leading progressive trend in Western art, has responded to these new demands by focusing its conceptual efforts on the problems of communication, alienation, conformism and disunity. Faulkner, Hemingway, Saint-Exupery, Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini and other realist Western artists attempt to provide an alternative to the loneliness which according to existentialism is the lot of man. Saint-Exupery celebrates a man of action. "If I am not a participant, who am I?'' is the motto in all his books. He comes out for universal brotherhood of man. The main message of Le Petit Prince is that man cannot be happy on earth if someone is in distress on a distant star. The idea that inspired the life and work of Saint-Exupery was communication between humans, breaking their isolation from one another.
Man derives joy not so much from success as from the knowledge that he has done everything to fulfil his mission – this is the idea running through Hemingway's work. The Old Man and the Sea, which sums up his philosophy, has the sentence: "A man can be destroyed but not defeated". That idea is central to Hemingway's prose which draws on diverse material and life experiences and whose heroes are men imbued with humanism. For Hemingway, no man can be "an island all by himself". This knowledge makes his heroes seek social justice and is one artistic way of conveying the idea of the responsibility of man.
The simultaneous appearance of such great works as Hamlet and Don Quixote was at once logical and paradoxical. And similarly, there is a significance in the appearance at about the same time of The Island (Hadaka no Shima), a film directed by Kaneto Shindo of Japan, and Fellini's La Doice Vita. These two films, contrasting in their subject matter and artistic idiom make a statement on different sides of the same problem. The Island speaks about unremitting toil which stupefies man and leaves no time and strength for enjoying leisure, culture values and the boons of modern civilization, thus making life meaningless and inhuman. La Doice Vita shows that endless pleasure divorced from creative work, too, is meaningless, anti-human, destructive and stypefying.
Fellini in his film Otto e mezzo (Eight and a Half) seems to declare, "I am human, so I am searching. The world is complex and chaotic, but I do not lose hope of finding harmony between the individual and the world." The film's main character is a tormented, questing film director. He looks for the meaning of life in his work but he does not know what to say to people. Everything seems to have been said already, and yet people are unhappy. Neither political doctrines, nor philosophical teachings, nor religious beliefs have made people happy, claims Fellini. Together with his hero he is looking for a "formula of life" to solve all problems. A huge tower, a launcher for a colossal rocket, is erected on the film set. It is a latter-day tower of Babel. People are going to escape from the earth which is threatened with nuclear death.
The modern Noah's Ark will save the few select by taking them to an unknown new world. But, however far man may travel in outer space, he cannot get away from his cozy, blue, probably unique planet. Escape from the complexities of earthly life is no way out. And the director makes his noisy polyglotic crowd solemnly come back down the gangway. The artist, desperate at his own impotence, and at a loss what to do with his characters, who symbolize mankind, suddenly hits on a brilliant, wise and symbolic solution. He orders music to start playing and people hold hands and form themselves into a circle. They no longer fear disunity, loneliness and the atomic threat. Once they have come together, people have no need to leave their planet, what they need is not a Noah's Ark rocket, but a handshake and the music of human communion. The profoundly humane image of the modern world resolving Fellini's tense drama is symbolic and fraught with great historical meaning.
Overcoming the alienation of people from one another is the leading motive in the work of the American film director Stanley Kramer. The Defiant Ones tells the story of two escaped convicts, a black and a white man, who managed to break the chains linking their hands and the race prejudice that chained their souls, and instead of the inhuman link establish a truly human bond, a bond of friendship. The pursuers were not in a hurry for they were sure that the age-old mutual hatred between a white and a black would "do its job", the fugitives would quarrel and fall into their hands without much effort on their part. But gradually, first due to circumstances and then consciously discovering truly human qualities in each other, the fugitives gain something more than physical freedom. They become free spiritually.
Their dramatic wanderings bring home to Jackson that his black companion is courageous and capable of true friendship. The black man's nobleness impresses the white man who has been brought up to racial intolerance. When a chance presents itself to save himself by betraying the black man, he prefers to stay by his side. In the final scene the situation repeats itself with the roles reversed. Now Callen, who is on the threshold of freedom, renounces it in order to stay with Jackson. The episode is visually symbolic. The Negro and the white man are running towards a train.
The Negro jumps on the footplate and stretches a hand to the white. For a second the viewer sees a close-up of the joined black and white hands. But, weakened by his wound, Jackson cannot climb. And then Callen jumps off the rushing flatcar. The train, the fugitives' only hope, leaves. The pursuers are closing in them. Callen puts Jackson's head on his lap and sings. The pursuers look with surprise at a Negro holding in his arms a white man who trustingly surrenders himself to the newfound friend. The symbol lends itself to interpretations on different levels: the life of one depends on the life of another; by force of circumstances the mutual hatred between a white and a black gives way to mutual help; no people (whites) can be free if they are oppressing another people (blacks); the whites and the blacks must free themselves together. In The Defiant Ones Kramer shows the false nature of the conflict between "blacks and whites" and the reality of more complex social conflicts. Kramer's Judgement at Nuremberg tackles the problem of personal responsibility before humanity. A person committing an evil deed is responsible for his acts even if he is fulfilling an oder, even if refusing to fulfil the order would mean death. Both the man who gives orders and the one who fulfils them are personally responsible. The difference is only in the degree of responsibility. According to Kramer, any, even a temporary deal with fascism is a crime.
The artistic approaches of the Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman and the Italian Antonioni are profoundly different but their conceptions of the individual have much in common and correspond to the realistic conception of the world.
All of Bergman's films warn against forgetting or mistrusting the cultural heritage, whether it be moral tenets, the mysteries of inspiration and artistic mastery, or aesthetic values created by itinerant circus actors and challenging bourgeois values. In his film The Seventh Seal all the characters die: the strong, courageous but rationalistic and passive Knight Antonius Block, the wily arms-bearer Jons who acts first and thinks afterwards, the innocent girl accused of being possessed by the devil, and the knight's faithful wife. In the apocalyptic final scene of that film parable the silhouettes of the characters appear against the pre-dawn sky. The shadows are holding hands and are being led by an impassionate and implacable visitor, a woman in a black gown with a scythe in her hand. Death spares only the weakest, the childishly innocent: the itinerant artist Jof, his wife Mia and their son. Only art is immortal, all the rest is transient and is swept off the earth by cruel time. Art links generations, throws a bridge from the past to the present and from the present to the future. This is the message of the film.
Antonioni's Blow-Up, like all the films of that Italian director, is about alienation, loneliness and the vulnerability of man. The main character is a young, energetic and talented art photographer who holds liberal views on everything including sex, is tolerant of the escapades of his beloved wife and is not averse to having an amorous fling himself. But having cast aside traditional morality he becomes a captive of sexual permissiveness and feels he has no right to restore intimacy with his wife, which aggravates his loneliness.
The man's vulnerability in the world is brought home to him not only through his own spiritual vacuum. One morning, in a garden obeying his cameraman's instincts, he automatically photographs a couple of lovers. The young woman who had got into the frame begs the artist to give him back the film and even offers him money. She seems to be afraid that her liaison would come to light. But when the artist develops the film and has a good look at the otherwise trivial situation by "blowing it up", i.e. magnifying the details, he sees something that sheds a new light on the situation. He discovers that the young woman is leading her lover to a spot in the depth of the park where a stranger hiding in the bushes is aiming his pistol at him. The discovery shakes the photographer. It is night but he runs to the park and there in the moonlight he sees a body of a man under the big tree where the lovers were kissing. The author seems to say to his viewers: look at life. Look at it up close and you will see it quite different, more complex and dangerous, full of treachery, alienation and enmity.
Because he "blows up" a picture the main hero becomes party to a secret of treachery and murder. He cannot guard the secret alone, it weighs on him. He may be a cynical "modern" young man but he is an artist and has a sense of social responsibility. So he rushes home to share the secret with his wife, only to find her in bed with a lover. He rushes to his friends, but they are befuddled by drugs and sex. The artist dashes about the town, but he is surrounded either by indifferent passers-by or by crazy pop music fans. A murder has been committed, a person has died, but the world is criminally cruel and indifferent to an individual. He must confide the secret into someone but he has nowhere to go. Where is man to go? Antonioni gives a stark answer to the famous Dostoyevsky question: nowhere! The symbolic final scene crowns the hero's fruitless attempt to find a way out, to break through the wall of alienation. Robot-like pantomime actors are playing tennis without a ball. The hero watches that weird tennis match. It is not sport but theatre, an improvisation. He can make no sense of the game and walks away but suddenly all eyes are on him: "the ball" "flew away" and "fell" at the photographer's feet. The mime actors gesture to him to pick up the ball and throw it into the court. But there is no ball. The actors, however, are so persistent and seem to be so fiercely convinced that they are really playing tennis that the photographer accepts their rules of the game and enters the world of artistic convention. He lifts the nonexistent ball and tosses it. One of the "players" "catches" the ball and puts it into play. The hero hears the ball meeting the racket, falling to the ground and sees the "excitement of the game". And then suddenly a happy smile comes to his face. For the first time his loneliness is broken and he feels at one with other people.
The final scene carries the hope that cruel reality could be humanized by culture and the arts. Man must accept culture with its conventions and its centuries-old experience and then he would be able to communicate with other people. So Antonioni who shows in Blow-Up the humanizing mission of art takes a view of the world similar to that of Bergman's conception of the individual as expressed in The Seventh Seal. That constitutes the invariant humanistic conception present in all the art of critical realism. This humanism is kind to men even though it does little to transform their ill-ordered life.

Socialist Realism

Socialist realism was born in Russia in the early 20th century. It was founded by Gorky. The main ideological and artistic forerunner of socialist realism was the classical Russian art with its realistic and social educational traditions and powerful ideas of patriotism and freedom. Soviet art advanced a new conception of man and the world in the very first decades of its existence.
As early as the 1920s Soviet aestheticians and artists engaged in a sharp polemic over the concept of the individual. Challenging one-sided and simplistic concepts of man, the concept was gaining strength which saw man as an active individual merged with the people and involved in the making of history.
From the outset the artistic concept of socialist realism emphasized the responsibility of the individual before history, the individual's being part of the historical process and of his own people. Socialist realism praises as the highest virtues heroism, selflessness, self-sacrifice (Petrov-Vodkin, The Death of a Commissar), dedication ("to give your heart to time to break" – Mayakovsky). The art of socialist realism discovered that involvement in the conscious making of history could be a source of historical optimism and invest an individual life with social meaning. This is the pathos that informs the novels The Iron Flood by Serafimovich and Chapayev by Furmanov, An Optimistic Tragedy (a play by Vishnevsky), Mayakovsky's poem "Good" and Alexei Tolstoy's trilogy The Ordeal.
Sergei Eisenstein's films Strike, The Battleship "Potyomkin" and October show the fate of an individual through the fate of the masses and put at the focus of the plot something that previously could only be a background, "a social landscape", "a mass scene", "an epic digression". Eisenstein did not downgrade the human content of his art and did not sacrifice the traditional individual hero to history. The mother in the episode on the Odessa stairs in The Battleship "Potyomkin" evokes compassion, and Ignat, the maker of shirts of mail in Alexander Nevsky, wins our sympathies. But the viewer's emotions are never focused on the character's personal destiny and are engaged by the wider drama of history itself.
The humanism of Soviet art has always included the idea of the international brotherhood of the peoples of the world. The hero went to war and died, not only for his own country but also for the happiness of the whole mankind. The individual was deeply conscious of his responsibility for the destinies of the world. The Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) against fascism broadened the life experience of Soviet artists and deepened their conception of humanism.
From the mid-50s cultural life in the Soviet Union, and its arts, entered a new stage. The aesthetic ideal of art grew and became richer. The problems of the relationship between the individual and society, humanism and progress came to be treated in all their complexity and with dialectical flexibility; the artists have exhibited a keener sense of responsibility before history and the individual.
While not renouncing anything of the discoveries of previous years and upholding even more vigorously than before the historically active individual, socialist realism became more fully aware that the process is a two-way one: not only the individual to history, but also history to the individual. It raised the problem of the value of man in his own right. Today, as before, Soviet artists praise the heroic ability of man "to give your heart to time to break". Today, as before, the destiny of an individual is presented as part of the destiny of his nation. Today, as before, Soviet art praises the individual who is involved in the historical process with the masses. But the novels of Bondarev and Bykov, the prose of Aitmatov and the films of Romm and Reizman as well as pursuing the traditional theme of the individual's responsibility before society, give unprecedented prominence to the responsibility of society for the destiny and happiness of the individual.
A person must give himself to other persons, "be a person for others". Egotistic isolation robs life of its meaning, makes it absurd. But while a person spiritually isolated from society is in danger of moral degradation, the development of society without regard for man and contrary to his interests is essentially unprogressive. The artistic conception of socialist realism today is confronted with two adversaries who seek to destroy the highest human values: social indifference and egoism on the one hand and leftist extremism on the other.
Many discoveries in the history of mankind have been not only a blessing but also a curse to the human race. That is why progress is not an abstract concept. Humanism shows the direction of social progress. Man must develop and improve through society and for the good of other people, and society must develop through man and for the good of the individual. This dialectics of man and humanity constitutes the essence of history.
A humanistic relationship between man and society is portrayed in Sholokhov's story The Fate of a Man which celebrates the courage, selflessness and magnanimity of the hero, Sokolov, and is deeply concerned with his fate. The hero behaves courageously in a Nazi prison camp. He saves his commander's life by killing a traitor. He escapes from the death camp and returns home only to learn that his whole family are dead. It is with enormous difficulty, like a patient recovering from a grave illness, that Sokolov returns to peacetime life. An orphan boy in desperate need of help and compassion helps Sokolov to recover a sense of purpose in life. It is not only the poor waif that the hero brings back to life but also himself, for he now feels that there is someone who needs him. Sholokhov's story is imbued with sad protest and admonition. All of us, it seems to say, owe more to our fellow men and could do more to make them happy. But he ends the story on a high note of hope and faith in man's fortitude: "What did the future hold for them? I wanted to believe that this Russian, this man of unbreakable will, would stick it out, and that the boy would grow at his father's side into a man who could endure anything, would overcome any obstacle if his country called upon him to do so." Sholokhov in that story asserts that a person is responsible before his nation, and the surrounding people are responsible for the happiness of every "small and great" person.
The art of socialist realism helps the individual to understand that the meaning of life is in identifying oneself with all things human, and it forms individuals of integrity, people who are open to reason, feelings and conscience and humanist ideas. A harmonious individual who is part of history, society and humanity is the supreme humanistic ideal of socialist realism.
An important aspect of the conception of the individual in contemporary socialist realism is the link between modern man and the national tradition. In the early decades of Soviet art, artists were keen to spot the new traits that people developed under the influence of a new mode of life. Ivanov and Fadeyev in their portrayals of partisans in the Far East, Furmanov in the portrait of Chapayev, Sholokhov in his character of Davydov, Korneichuk and Vishnevsky show people who break with the traditions and mores of the old world and establish new relationships. It seemed that the invisible threads linking the individual to the past had snapped. Emphasis on the break with the past and its tradition was characteristic of the period when the new man was emerging. By contrast the art of the last two decades deals with man who, though constantly on move, constantly evolving, is already established, having proved himself in the face of history. The attention of the artists has swung from the problem of the emergence of the new man to the traits that link him to the centuries-old national, psychological, cultural, ethnographic, domestic and ethical traditions. And they discovered that people who in the ardour of revolution swept away national tradition were incapable of meaningful and humane life and that the statement "genuine innovation continues and develops progressive tradition" held good for the education of the human individual as well.
Chinghiz Aitmatov in his story The White Steamer condemns a character by the name of Orazkul who is cruel and despotic to people and nature, who despises the traditions, legends and taboos of his people. The She-Deer whom he orders to kill is a symbol of the national tradition of being kind to all things living, a symbol of the past of the Kirghiz people. Orazkul is evil not only because he bullies other people but also because he shows contempt for the history of his people.
The motivations and inner contradictions of the individual, his links with society and the destiny of his' nation, the dialectical link between the internal and external aspects of the individual – these are the abiding concerns of Soviet art. Some biographical films of the 40s and 50s took a somewhat simplistic view of the artist's ties with the people and dependence on society (the films about Glinka, Moussorgsky and others come to mind). These films often ignored the inner contradictions of the artist and his creative activity. The biographical film Tchaikovsky challenges that tradition. It shows Tchaikovsky's works as expressing deep inner conflicts in the composer's personality. And it would have been profoundly true if these contradictions were not treated as the extension in an adult of complexes developed in childhood but were related to the complex social reality. In its probings into the artist's inner life, the film raises an important problem of the role of inner contradictions of the individual for his activity, but unfortunately it does not show the formative influence of the social milieu on the artist.
Today the art of socialist realism has developed a profound conception of the individual: man lives in "a beautiful and furious world" and is aware that "the nation is not complete without me" (Andrei Platonov), the individual's oneness with the people presupposes the recognition of the intrinsic value of the individual. Socialist realism is heir to the humanistic tradition in the way it treats the problem of "the individual and progress". Herzen wrote: "Are you consigning contemporary people to the pitiable role of caryatids who are supporting a terrace on which others would some day dance ... or to being wretched workers who drag, knee-deep in mud, a barge with some mysterious fleece and the tame inscription "Future progress" on its flag? The weary fall by the roadside ... and there is as much of the road as at the beginning.... A goal that is infinitely remote is not a goal, but, if you like, a trick.... Every period, every generation, every life has always had its own fullness, and new requirements and new means are developed along the way.... The goal of every generation is this itself.
Socialist realism today proclaims the concept of a historically active individual and upholds his intrinsic value. It analyses the relationship between the individual and society in all its complexity. Progress is reactionary if it destroys the individual. Progress, but not progress that is contrary to or at the expense of the individual; the individual for other people and society for the individual – this is the concept of the individual advanced by socialist realism. That concept is inspired by lofty humanistic ideals and accords with the objective course of history.
The class nature of art in a class society becomes, in the art of socialist realism, a conscious and consistent point of view inspired by loyalty to the party and the people. It is not an elitist art divorced from the people and catering to a "satiated heroine" or "to the top ten thousand". The art of socialist realism is addressed to the broad masses and is democratic and humanistic. It does not follow its audience, but is ahead of it, leading it towards a richer inner and cultural life and high ideals. It is an important means of moulding a harmonious personality.

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