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The Science of the Process of Art


Interactions in Art

Interactions in art are diverse influences of one or a group of art phenomena on another phenomenon or a whole group of phenomena. There are interactions between elements of art as an evolving system.
Everything is intertwined in the art process; you cannot encounter any single type of influence in its pure form. But the scholarly approach demands that a typology of artistic interactions be given. These interactions have two "voices", i.e. the "passive" (the artist is influenced) and the "active" (the artist exerts influence); two classes: interactions within one art (for example in literature or cinema) and interactions between arts (theatre influences the graphic arts, music influences cinema and cinema influences literature and television). The interactions between arts could be likened to cross-pollination of flowers: there occur the most amazing similarities of artistic thinking between poet and artist, novelist and musician who may share the overall world view and aesthetic attitudes towards the world (Blok and Vrubel, Ghe and Tolstoy, Levitan and Chekhov).
Art interactions can be on different levels: at the level of individual works, individual artists, art trends, currents and schools and, finally, at the level of entire art periods. An example of interaction at the level of trends is offered by the influence of Sentimentalism on the emergence of Romantic art, and at the level of art periods by the influence of antique Greek art on that of the Renaissance and of Roman art on Classicism.
As to their character, interactions within art can be strong and weak. A literary story has it that a famous writer remarked when told that a critic had suggested that he was following the Dickens tradition. "It seems there is yet another writer I should read." It may seem paradoxical but it is possible that both the writer and the critic were right. An artist can be influenced by a predecessor whose work he does not know. Not infrequently it happens that a great artist becomes dissolved as it were in the world artistic process and thus exerts an all-embracing influence on its development. Needless to say, such "dissolution" does not belittle the significance of the genius and his work. Speaking in the language of physics, these are weak interactions; they have universal breadth and deep penetration into the thick of the most complex processes. A "gravitational field" is created into which any artist of the following period is inevitably drawn whether he shuns or is attracted to his great predecessor, rejects his artistic credo or continues his traditions. Fyodor Dostoyevsky was an example of a genius who dissolved himself in the world literary process; his work went a long way to shape the general literary situation in the 20th century. Maxim Gorky shunned Dostoyevsky, Kafka was drawn to him and Leonov as a writer developed within the Dostoyevskian tradition.
Such artistic interaction involves not direct influence of a great predecessor's work on one or other of the succeeding generations of artists, but the creation of an artistic field within whose range of influence they are inevitably drawn. Such influence may be less noticeable but it is more effective. Albert Camus and Bertolt Brecht reacted to the influence of the artistic field created by Dostoyevsky, one of the most philosophical and moralistic writers of the world, in different ways and within their own frames of reference but in some ways similarly. Their intellectual art can be traced to Dostoyevsky's artistic principles. Brecht and Camus write concept plays and concept novels. But while Camus emphasises the philosophical and moral problems and puts the individual at the centre of his thinking, Brecht turns to philosophical-political themes and focuses on the people and the relationship between the individual and the people.
Interactions can be of two kinds: individual and general. For example, Dostoyevsky does not enter the "individual", "private", "personal" tradition of Brecht but has influenced him as a "general" tradition (weak interaction), as an artistic summit that is the heritage of all literature. The "individual" tradition has to do with direct influence of a writer on his successor (strong interaction). Interactions in art are further divided into types.
The first type is innovatory continuation of the tradition.
The second type is rejection when the artist reacts negatively to his predecessor's work, so that the artistic conceptions of their works are opposite while the expressive means used and artistic manners may be similar. Such interaction is based on a love-hate relationship between art principles.
The third type is borrowing, the transposing of elements of one artistic system (narrative scheme, circumstances, characters and composition) into another. The features of the source can be discerned in the new work. But the borrowed elements are blended with new colouring, with imperceptibly changed artistic rhythm, and a different treatment of characters.
The fourth type of interaction within art is close to borrowing and may be termed influence when an artist uses some elements of his predecessor's artistic experience. In that instance, the stylistic qualities of the original are not preserved and the influence may crop up in the most unexpected guises.
The fifth type is imitation, copying of the main stylistic traits or form of the source, the manner of the predecessor. The imitator draws on the source to a greater degree than the borrower, the latter copying elements of the source and the former its very structure.
The sixth type is parody, an imitation exaggerating the traits of the original and expressing a mocking attitude to some characters and ideas of the source while in general revering and admiring its qualities. Such is the interaction between Pushkin's Duke Nulin and Shakespeare's Lucretia, and Don Quixote by Cervantes and the chivalry novel.
The seventh type is aping, non-creative imitation marked by a small degree of processing, slavish copying and decreased artistic standards compared to the original. The lowest stage of aping is plagiarism, i.e. complete artistic impotence, interaction with zero creative potential verging on simple literary theft.
The eighth type is competition. The artist seems to regard his predecessor as a rival, learning from him in some ways and rejecting him in other ways being aware of his difference and seeking to surpass him artistically. Such was the attitude of Lermontov to Byron.
The ninth type is concentration in which a major artist integrates and absorbs the work of a whole galaxy of his predecessors and contemporaries. Many of them are interesting for posterity not in their intrinsic artistic merit but rather in the cultural and historical context since everything that is of value in their work has been absorbed by the work of a great artist whose masterpieces have intransient value. In Russia such a genius was Pushkin, in Italy, Dante, in Germany, Goethe and in England, Shakespeare.
The tenth type of interaction within art is a process opposite to concentration, i.e. the dissolution of the work of a major writer in the subsequent artistic process, without his own work losing its intrinsic aesthetic value.
Interactions within art can be furthermore international and intranational. International interactions are in turn subdivided into intra-regional (for example, the interaction between Slavic literatures) and inter-regional (for example, interaction between the regions of Slavic and Romance literatures).
International interactions in art can be on a personal level (for example, Pushkin and Mickiewicz), at the level of different arts (for example, Russo-Polish literary ties) and the entire national art cultures (Japanese artistic culture influenced European painting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).
Global international interactions at the level of art periods exert a particularly profound influence on mankind's artistic culture. The artistic discoveries of one nation influence the artistic culture of many other nations. International artistic interactions usually have an epicentre (Greece in the period of antiquity, Italy in the period of Renaissance, France in the period of Classicism).
The integrity of mankind's social and historical development, in spite of the relative autonomy of art, accounts for common features in the artistic consciousness of different peoples and provides the basis for the interactions between the arts of different nations.

Repetition of the Unrepeatable
(Typology of Coincidences in Art)

How does one account for the fact that the art of different peoples reveals common and similar features? For the comparativists (the adherents of the comparative-historical method of literary study) the main vehicles of the universal human element in artistic thought were the so-called "vagrant plots". But they cannot explain all the coincidences in the arts of different peoples.
Often one is confronted with a similarity of art phenomena that cannot be put down to the direct cultural influence of one nation on another. One thinks of the Stone Garden, that remarkable work of Japanese art. Created in the 13th century it is linked with Zen-Buddhism and contains profound philosophical images that overlap with the ideas and images of the Western civilization. The Stone Garden is a space covered with coarse white sand amid which are scattered moss-grown islets and fancy-shaped boulders. Nature in its creations cannot match this harmonious chaos and chaotic harmony.
The breath of man on the stone does not prevent it from being pristine and natural. The Stone Garden is reminiscent, not of the trimmed Versailles gardens, but rather of a later product of French culture, existentialism which has proclaimed that life is absurd and has equated the world with Inanity. The Stone Garden is an imaginative model of the cosmos. Stones in the sand are "islets in the ocean of eternity, or Inanity" as the makers of the garden themselves proclaimed. Different circumstances which were in both cases linked to the historical situation which appeared to contemporaries to be a dead end produced an artistic embodiment of the idea of the absurd world.
The Japanese "philosophical garden" has 15 stones, but they are so skilfully arranged that from whatever point you look, you see 12 or 13, at best 14. Here we have a model of the Universe, and the fact that we never see all the stones is a metaphoric way of saying that the world can never be understood in all its fullness and infinity. The fifteenth stone anticipates, in the form of an image, the Kantian idea of "the thing in itself".
There is no question of attributing such cultural "intersections" to mutual influence of national artistic traditions. However, all the instances of comparable or similar elements in the art of different peoples lend themselves to scientific classification.
The first type of similarity arises due to the immediate similarities of the historical circumstances of different peoples. The art of different peoples passes through similar stages of evolution. The second type of similarity is due to dialectics whereby art develops in a spiral. The phenomena at a point situated on a higher turn of the spiral repeat, on a new basis, the essential features of the preceding turn or stage of development. Thus, Renaissance art repeated on a new basis the features of ancient Greek art, and classicism has some features of Roman art; the rationalistic Enlightenment of Lessing's dramas are repeated in the intellectual, epic dramas of Brecht, etc.
The third, most complex and least studied type of recurrence of artistic phenomena is attributed to the existence of cycles in the development of artistic culture. Nutsubidze, a Georgian scholar, advanced a fruitful theory about the existence of an Eastern Renaissance which predated the Western one and produced a rich and original crop of art works. A departure from the Eurocentric conception makes it possible to include within the purview of the history and theory of art not only Western but also the Eastern cycle of art development and to find similar features and correspondences at different stretches of these cycles. Different cycles of development repeat in an original way the spirals of the artistic process. Drawing on the experience not only of Europe, but also America, Africa, Asia and Oceania would make scholars trace parallel historical movement of the different branches of artistic culture and prompt them to look for common patterns in these dissimilar but in the final count comparable processes.
Mankind deals with a world that is one, with a single though diverse material environment and common social and economic processes. That provides the basis for all the human universals, intersections, interactions and international influences that are revealed when the arts of different nations are compared. At the same time the original social-historic and artistic experience of various nations results in an original national refraction of artistic influences emanating from other nations and accounts for specific forms in which common features are manifested.

Progress in Art

The development of art is complex and does not follow a straight line. Does this mean simply change or is there progress in art? One must first say that progress in art should be understood not as a measure of the genius possessed by artists but as something different, as the improvement and rise in the level of imaginative thinking.
The interpretation of art as a process encounters an apparent contradiction: on the one hand every stage in the development of art is a step in the upward movement of imaginative thinking, but on the other hand what is historically higher is not necessarily higher in artistic terms. Every stage in the development of art is not only relatively significant as preparation and transition to a higher stage. It also possesses intrinsic value and uniqueness. Although its path is tortuous, art on the whole develops in an ascending line. In other words, in spite of all the contradictions and deviations art in general is marked by increasingly complex, aesthetically and existentially rich artistic thought. Realism, for example, raised the level of artistic thinking and deepened the artist's insight into life by discovering psychological analysis, learning to reveal the "dialectics of the soul" and reflecting the aesthetic richness of the world in aesthetically complex images.
The history of aesthetics has seen many eschatological-aesthetic Utopias predicting the death of art. They go back to Plato. His pessimistic view of art was echoed by Schiller in some of his pronouncements. It is also found in the early writings of Fichte and Schlegel. Aesthetic eschatology gets the most vivid and complete expression in Hegel's theory about "the end of art" and the advent of a kingdom of pure spirituality unburdened by material form. All the aesthetic conceptions that prophesied the death of art underrated its cognitive role and noted its imperfections compared to philosophy and religion.
The Utopias proclaiming "the end of art" are clearly erroneous. Art is capable of progress. Moreover, progress is the law of the artistic process. Engels believed that future drama would blend Shakespeare's liveliness and effectiveness with awareness of the meaning of history. The art process has an ascending progressive character. The idea of progress in art is developed in Lenin's articles about Tolstoy which stress that the work of the great Russian writer marked a step forward in the development of human art in the new historical period.
Progress in the history of art consists not only in reflecting new and higher forms of the life of mankind, and new problems and ideas but also in the improvement and the rising level of artistic thinking from period to period.

The Intransient Character of Artistic Values

The ancients used to say that everything passes. But you cannot say of a great work of art that it too will pass. It has intransient value. The forms of artistic thinking engendered by the concrete circumstances of a particular period cannot be repeated. The antique world, "the normal childhood" of mankind, produced a remarkable art which in a sense has remained a norm and unattainable model.
The fascination of ancient Greek art does not contradict the undeveloped kind of society from which it grew. That fascination derives from the fact the immature social conditions which produced that art can never be repeated. The early forms of artistic thinking in a period that did not know the printing press, gunpowder and other products of the modern civilization can never be repeated.
Great artistic images preserve their intrinsic value for mankind over many centuries while the greatest of scientific discoveries of the past represent just an element, an aspect of modern science. Thus, while Newtonian physics is incorporated as an aspect in the physics of Einstein Homer is not dissolved in Dante or Shakespeare who in turn are not made irrelevant by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. Of course, not everything in art, and not all art, is eternal. The ability to tell between appearance and reality, to sift off the essential elements in a phenomenon from the transient and superficial constitute the great gift of the true artist whose work is immortal for precisely that reason.
Art turns the most ordinary of objects into historical ones. While history, being a science, reveals the process through essential facts, art is capable of putting inessential objects into the characteristic human context of the period making them universally relevant. Why does that happen? Before including an object of reality in its system of images, art processes it: the object is no longer simply an object of reality but an object reworked in keeping with the laws of beauty which confers universal significance on it. Art always treats an object aesthetically, i.e. in terms of its value for mankind, and herein lies the intransient value of the masterpieces of art.