Monday, July 25, 2011

Ortega y Gasset: The Dehumanization of Art (Artistic Art - Excerpt 2 of 2)

Romantic history painting. Commemorates the Fr...Image via WikipediaARTISTIC ART (part 2)

During the XIX century artists proceeded in all too impure a fashion. They reduced the strictly aesthetic elements to a minimum and let the work consist almost entirely in a fiction of human realities. In this sense we can say that all normal art of the last century has been realistic. Realistic were Beethoven and Wagner. Realists were Chateaubriand as well as Zola. Romanticism and Naturalism, from today’s vantage point, draw closer together and reveal their common realistic root.

Works of this kind are only partially works of art, or artistic objects. Their enjoyment does not depend upon our power to adjust to the transparencies and images, which constitutes the artistic sensibility. All they require is human sensibility to let resonate within our neighbor's joys and worries. We can see why nineteenth century art has been so popular: it is made for the masses inasmuch as it is not art but an extract from life. Let us remember that in epochs with two different types of art, one has been for minorities and one for the majority, the latter has always been realistic.

Let’s not now discuss whether pure art is possible. Perhaps it is not; but since the reasons that drive us to this negation are somewhat long and difficult—it’s better to drop the subject.

Besides, it is not of major importance to our current theme. Even though pure art may be impossible there is doubtless a tendency toward a purification of art. Such a tendency will arrive at a progressive elimination of the human, all too human, elements predominant in romantic and naturalistic production. And in this process a point can be reached in which the human content has grown so thin that we can barely see it. We’ll then have an object that can be perceived only by those endowed with the peculiar gift of artistic sensibility. It will be an art for artists and not for the masses; it will be an art the high born, and not for the populace.

That is why modern the artist divides the public into two classes, those who understand it and those who do not understand it; that is to say, those who are artists and those who are not. The new art is an artistic art.

I do not propose to extol the new way in art or to condemn the old one used in the past century. I restrict myself to characterize them as the zoologist characterizes two contrasting species. The new art is a world-wide fact. For about twenty years now the most alert young people of two successive generations —in Berlin, Paris, London, New York, Rome, and Madrid— have found themselves faced with the undeniable fact that traditional art bored them; moreover, that they detest it. With these young people one can do one of two things: either shoot them, or try to understand them. I have opted in favor of the latter.

Promptly have I noticed in them the blossoming of a new sense of art, perfectly clear, coherent, and rational. Far from being a whim, their way of feeling is the inevitable and fruitful result of the previous entire artistic evolution.

Whimsical, arbitrary, and consequently useless it would be to set oneself against the new style and obstinately remain shut up within forms already archaic, exhausted, and obsolete. In art, as in morals, duty does not depend on our personal judgment; we have to accept the working imperative imposed by the time.
Submission to the order of the day, to be certain, is the only probability open to the individual. Even so he may achieve nothing; but his failure is much more likely if he insists on composing another Wagnerian opera, or another naturalistic novel.

In art all repetition is null. Each style that manifests itself in history can engender a certain number of different forms within a generic type. But there always comes a day when the magnificent quarry is depleted. This, for instance, has happened with romantic-naturalistic novel and theater.

It is a naive error to believe that the present in-fecundity of both genres is due to lack of personal talent. What happens is that the possible combinations within them are exhausted. Thus, it must be deemed fortunate that this exhaustion coincides with the emergence of a new artistic sensibility capable of detecting new and untouched quarries.

When we analyze the new style we find certain closely connected tendencies. It tends (1) to dehumanize art, (2) to avoid living forms, (3) to insure that the work of art is nothing but a work of art, (4) to consider art as play and nothing else, (5) to be essentially ironical, (6) to elude all falsehood and hence to aspire to scrupulous realization. And finally, (7) art, according to the young artists, is a thing of no transcending consequence.
Let’s sketch briefly each of these features of the new art.
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