Excerpts translated from Das Reich der Kunst (The Realm of Art), published in German in 1933.
From the Introduction
I want readers to realize that works of visual art do not exist solely to serve as decoration for one’s walls or ornamentation for one’s external life. I want readers to come to appreciate that works of visual art have an impact on the soul and can provide unexpected help for those who seek the path to the living Spirit.
From Essay #1 Art Is Essential to Life
Truly creative persons receive inspiration and energy from the primal depths of the Spiritâ€”a source that no psychological probing can ever truly plumb.
They are the beneficiaries of the artistic forms and esthetic of their time, and this serves as the starting point for their artistic development.
But soon something else drives them from withinâ€”an inner imperative to be true to themselves at all costs. They are compelled to reach beyond the confines of what is acceptable and safe and break through the conventional esthetic of the time, lest their strongest and best creative impulses atrophy.
The conservative forces of the status quo may pull at them and tempt them to take the easy road and yet, they have no choice but to follow their authentic path to the endâ€”even if it brings with it poverty and struggle.
Only those few artists who are true creators will forge, through the power of their authentic vision, new, original artistic values for their time.
Some of these artists may end their days in misery yet their work, in which the Godhead dwells and is revealed, will live on for all the ages to come.
It seems like a special favor bestowed by a kindly fate if these truly creative artists, after having suffered much deprivation, live to see the day when the value of their works is finally recognized. But the real value of their work is never dependent on the opinions of the time as to what constitutes true art. Such opinions are arbitrary and change with the times, whereas the true value of a work of art is fixed, at the very hour of its creation, and endures throughout time.
Although the existence of the tangible work of art is important during the artist’s lifetime and for future generations, its value in the eternal realm endures even if the tangible work itself is no longer in existence. Its eternal value is given in the act of creation itself and the work remains in existence on the spiritual plane for eternity.
This truth may seem to some like an empty assertion unless one understands that all human creativity is part of the greater, eternally-present force of creativity that encompasses all of the natural world. This eternally-present, creative power exists independently of and beyond everything that can be created using this force, and continues to exist regardless of the fate of that which was created.
From Essay #3 Explaining Art
People who are at home in the world of the visual arts are asked, time and again, to “explain” works of art to those who are still tentatively trying to understand what they are seeing.
Such requests for explanations are the most glaring examples of how ignorant most people are about the nature of the creativity involved in works of visual art.
Those who read about art, who attend “introductory’” lectures about art, and who avidly follow what newspaper art critics have to sayâ€”before even visiting an artÂ exhibitâ€”are misguided in the most fundamental way. They believe that “explanations “about art will help them to better appreciate it. But works of art are meant to be gazed at and meditated upon, and to be understood with one’s feelings.Â
These people are sincere in their desire to understand art, but they do not realize that art only reveals itself to those open to receiving itâ€”to allowing art to speak to them directly. Those who approach a work of art without this open attitude often feel like intruders because, indeed, they have not yet earned the right to enter the artist’s world.
. . .
Art is not a matter of the intellect!
The phrase “understanding art” is like an old coin that is still in circulation even though it has long ago lost its value. We still use this phrase because we are accustomed to using itâ€”even though has no meaning of worth. If we say that art can be “understood,” this implies that art can be accessed through the intellect.
Art must be sensed and felt withinâ€”it can never be accessed through the intellect.
The technical aspects of a work of art can be explained and then understood by using the intellect, but the intellect can never “explain” the work of art itself.
It is not form or color that makes the finished work into a work of art but, rather, the inner, organic life that animates these basic elements and joins them together into a unified, harmonious whole.
New directions in art or theories about art technique that can be grasped by the intellect or related in words may inspire enthusiasm and even lift the soul but they are never a substitute for experiencing the inner life of a work of art in which forms and colors have been integrated.
From Essay #4 Developing an Eye for Art
In order to develop an eye for art, one must expose oneself again and again to the very best art until the soul gradually learns to appreciate what the eye sees and is able to differentiate between that which has been infused with life and that which has not.
A mature feeling for art can only develop if the viewer penetrates deeply into the creative spirit that animates all true art. This essential, life-giving, creative spirit is found in the art of all times and peoples and in creations of all genuine artists regardless of the artistic school or theory that guides their works.
Those who are familiar with art and sure of their judgment may gain new insights by looking at art in a hurried manner when visiting museums or art exhibitions during vacation travels. However, someone who is not familiar with art will more likely be confused rather than educated by this approach. Viewers who have not yet mastered the ability to appreciate the true value of a work of art can never learn to do so by looking at art in passing. It does not matter whether they hurry through a gallery of old masters or an exhibition of newer works of art.
In order to develop the ability to evaluate art one must have ample time to meditate on a work of art.
Most people, even those who are otherwise educated, attempt to understand a work of art by first trying to figure out what the work depictsâ€”even if many would not like to admit this.
But the life-giving content that gives a work of art its value is not to be found in its subject matter but, instead, in the creative energy with which the artist infused it.
Those who focus on the subject matter that a painting or sculpture depicts only see the initial spark that may have inspired the artist to create, but they do not see the work of art’s true value.
If a work is to reach the level of artâ€”if its value is to exceed the value of the labor and materials used to produce itâ€”it must reflect the intensity with which the artist penetrated the essence of that which is depicted, transformed it within, and formed it anew for the eye to see.
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