"Newberry's work speaks to the senses, the intellect, and the passions of those who do not need the judgment of history to tell them what is great, but who can themselves make the judgment of history today." Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy
I have been thinking about writing an art book filled with stories, anecdotes, speculation on prehistorical art, real life experiences, and the knowledge of what is it is like to strive for the sublime. Today I started with the title and listing chapter headings.
Psychological Aesthetics and the Exciting Fight to Evolve: Beyond Obstacles, Malevolence, and Ignorance
Leaving One’s Mark: Taming Powerful Animals Through Capturing Them In Art
Imagining the Next Step: Willendorf Venus or I Will See You Later Tonight
Safety in Group Think, Their Fear of the Unknown and the Extent They Will Go Eradicate Evolutionary Nudges
Wisdom, Truth, and Courage Within: Calibrating Perception, Evaluation, and Emotion
To Be or Not To Be? To Break Free or to Conform?
Tears, Love, and Visibility: The Alternate Universe
The Art Instinct: What Makes Humans Unique Animals?
Art is the Power That Religion Wants: Control the Artists you Control the Mass Psyche
Art Transcends Agendas By Touching Individual Souls
Power Without Wisdom Corrupts Completely: Michelangelo in the Quarry; Postmodernist Malevolence
From the cave paintings of the Horses Heads to figurative art today, visual art is about perception and subject. We artists, and our ancient ancestors, look at the world around us, focus on important aspects of it, digest it, then, in acts of passion express our view of humanity. Visual art is inextricably linked to human evolution; its best examples further our potential as human beings. Visual art refines our perceptions, explores our emotional potentials, and expands our minds. But for the last century art has been under attack.
In the mid-20th century these three forces––Kant’s philosophy, abstract expressionists, and the CIA––congealed ostensibly to champion freedom and originality, instead accomplished an undermining of art and consequently humanity. The connections and machinations are so complicated and obtuse it is hard to take them seriously, but it does make a difference in understanding them, at least in the sense of whether or not our culture evolves.
Progress is Not Automatic
There are a few things that are embedded in our DNA, like sex and consciousness, but art is one of the most powerful. It has been said that the human species doesn’t have instincts—that we have to make choices, make mistakes, and figure out future directions. We can implode, exploit wars, exterminate populations, and commit suicide. There are no guarantees that philosophers, experts, government institutions, and artists have it right. And we are only a few nuclear explosions away from eradication. It is a sobering obligation that we must choose and possibly be tragically wrong and sometimes be wonderfully right.
Da Vinci, Study of Hands c. 1474, in silverpoint on prepared paper heightened with white (chalk?).
Visual Science and Heart
This sketch by da Vinci represents everything great about humanity and art: skill, discovery, knowledge, light and shadow, science, empathy, humanism, beauty, and effortlessness. An interesting thing is that this work uplifts us and can inspire our farthest reaching aspirations whether for science or heart or both. Da Vinci’s near-contemporary, Vasari, wrote about him:
“Leonardo’s disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone’s affection… his magnificent presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul; he was so persuasive that he could bend other people to his will. … He was so generous that he fed all his friends, rich or poor… Through his birth Florence received a very great gift, and through his death it sustained an incalculable loss… an artist of outstanding physical beauty who displayed infinite grace in everything he did and who cultivated his genius so brilliantly that all problems he studied were solved with ease.”
In the last decade of the 18th century Beethoven composed his 1st and 2nd piano concertos, Goya etched the series Los Caprichos, Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Marat, and Mozart composed the Requiem in D Minor and the great Jupiter Symphony. These works coincided with the French Revolution, and together they guided European culture away from the extravagant art of Rococo exemplified by the sweetly-colored paintings of Boucher and Tiepolo, with their floating florid nymphs, cupids, silks, and princesses.
Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793. The period of the French Revolution marked a new period of art with more gravitas.
This was a paradigm shift from the superficial to gut wrenching passion, as if Western art was going back to its roots in the dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides; answering the big questions of what is the good and what is important while at the same time elevating the creative process by innovation and superlative skill. This wasn’t for the faint of heart. The artists would have to face inner turmoil and outer rejection as they attempted to get patrons to sponsor wildly dramatic depictions of death, war, and executions, which didn’t lend themselves to the decorative palace dining room. Risking their livelihoods the artists bore down in this new direction. With this revolutionary spirit we can see the need for a new aesthetic to champion and reflect an Age of Enlightenment.
The Sublime the Absolutely Great
The year 1790, when Beethoven was 20, also marked the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. It famously compares and contrasts the aesthetic values of Beauty with that of the Sublime. The treatise identifies Beauty representing the lighter more sensual pleasing side and the Sublime addressing what is the “absolutely great beyond all comparison.” Kant wanted to free the Sublime from the constraints of art and launch it into the world of the mind unfettered by perception, form, or realization. Continue reading “Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime”
The experience of the sublime is to be looked for in art. Art integrates senses, emotions, and thought. The sublime in art elevates our sensory experience, heightens and taps our emotional potential, and furthers our knowledge. The sublime in art can give us a moral to the story, a stance towards living. At its best, the sublime in art inspires awe in our human potential and gives us a path to evolve as a whole being and as a species.
Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 11/25/2017
Note: Kant’s concepts of the Sublime (1790) are chips crumbling off the shoulder of a brilliant PsyOp philosopher, who unfortunately had bile instead of a soul. I wrote my 2017 (theoretical treatise)The Sublime to correct the record. I believe it will have historic import and hopefully give a much needed definition to future evolutionary artists.