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  • Art has a very high status in modern societies:

  • People flock to museums

  • and art works fetch record prices.

  • But our age is also oddly reluctant to say in clear terms what art might actually be for.

  • An odd mystique surrounds it, epitomized by the puzzlement many of us feel

  • as we look at yet another odd looking, modern work of art in a contemporary museum.

  • We're often left quietly and politely wondering what is it all meant to be about.

  • For most of history, this kind of question didn't arise, because it was abundantly clear what art was for.

  • The question mark over the purpose of art is really a modern one, so let's go back in time

  • and find out about a wider range of options that we might be able to draw on fruitfully today.

  • Rome, 290 AD

  • Deep below the imperial Roman city, the faithful secretly gather in catacombs,

  • or burial chambers, to celebrate new religious figure, Jesus Christ.

  • Christianity, though still in its infancy and ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman authorities, is rapidly gaining ground.

  • Like so many religions before it and since, Christianity has become involved with the making of art.

  • Here, an unnamed and not especially talented artists represents Jesus healing of a bleeding woman,

  • an incident recorded in the New Testament.

  • Like all religions, Christianity is using art for a clear and understandable purpose:

  • to make its message more resonant, emotionally attractive, and popularly appealing.

  • Art is like a kind of advertising for its ideas.

  • Soon Christian artists are going to dominate Europe.

  • For almost a thousand years almost all art produced in Europe will simply be Christian art.

  • From humble beginnings in a subterranean prayer room,

  • Christian art will go on to produce extraordinary cathedrals, paintings

  • sculptures and celebrating and enhancing the prestige of its messages.

  • Thailand, 15th century

  • An unknown craftsman finishes a statue of the Buddha.

  • One of many hundreds of thousands of such statues produced over the

  • centuries in Southeast Asia.

  • The purpose of such art is extremely clear:

  • You're meant to look at the Buddha and take inspiration, becoming a little more as he is.

  • The sculpture is an invitation to calm and contemplation.

  • In the East as in the West arts function is evident:

  • to support the truths set down by religions,

  • to make ideas more easily digestible.

  • Paris, January 1801

  • The French artist Jacques-Louis David finishes "Napoleon crossing the Alps".

  • It commemorates a moment when a couple of years before, Napoleon still in his

  • twenties launched a lightning raid on the North Italian states, winning a series of astonishing victories.

  • In the picture, Napoleon masters a white warhorse

  • though he actually cross the mountains on a more serviceable mule.

  • Here, art is doing something it has done throughout history as well:

  • acting as propaganda for a political cause.

  • Napoleon is looking back to the example of Louis XIV of France who

  • did a lot of propagandizing with art.

  • It was a habit he got into throughout his rule.

  • Paris, 1833

  • The poet, novelist and critique Théophile Gautier publishes an essay about art,

  • which argues that art must free itself from the poisonous agendas of religions and governments.

  • The point of good art is always to be just for its own sake

  • as he put it in French, "l'art pour l'art", art for art's sake.

  • This doctrine of art for art's sake becomes the motto of the new generation of romantic artists

  • who set themselves against the old ideal that art should serve religion or powerful rulers or nations.

  • Nonsense, says Gautier, true art must serve nothing at all.

  • it is an end in itself and doesn't try to change or do or speak about anything.

  • Artists set themselves apart from the bourgeois commercial society growing up all around,

  • which is always trying to sell people things.

  • Art should try to inhabit a loftier, more abstract realm.

  • New York, 1917

  • The artist Marcel Duchamp prepares to exhibit his latest work at a show by the Society of Independent Artists.

  • It is surprisingly a urinal titled simply Fountain.

  • Duchamp is a rebellion against many notions of what art is,

  • that it should be easy to understand, that it should make sense, that it should promote something.

  • The true artist, argues Duchamp must defend himself against any confusion

  • with advertising, mass media, government propaganda or religious indoctrination,

  • that true purpose of the artist is to stand outside the mainstream and create

  • works that are enigmatic, mysteriously provocative and rather silent.

  • New York, 1949

  • A russian émigré artist, Marcus Ravkovic who has renamed himself Mark Rothko to escape anti-semitism

  • exhibits a new range of works at the Betty Parsons gallery in Manhattan.

  • They are a revelation, in that they seem not to be about anything.

  • They are about pure color fields and are as abstract as music.

  • For some, they are the greatest works of the 20th century and soon fetch enormous prices.

  • The Museum of Modern Art acquires a major set of Rothko's as do other national museums around the world.

  • Rothko becomes representative of the more obscure direction of 20th century art,

  • highly appealing to an elite who will often pay enormous incomprehensible prices for works

  • but puzzling for the wider public.

  • Venice, June 2005

  • The world's most prestigious art fair, The Venice Biennale opens at the newly restored spaces of the Arsenale.

  • It has been curated for the first time by two women, María de Corral and Rosa Martinez.

  • 41 artist's are shown from all over the world.

  • The nearby Marco Polo airport is filled with the private jets of the world's billionaires,

  • many of whom profess to love art.

  • Elaborate cocktail parties are held late into the night.

  • Art has become a playground for the super rich

  • as well as an obligatory tourist destination for weary travelers.

  • Art is both hugely revered and yet somehow still in question.

  • For most of its history art has been saddled with a mission:

  • to glorify religion or to speak well of the state.

  • Modern art was the result of a swerve away from these agendas for extremely understandable reasons.

  • Yet if art is to regain its true centerality

  • it should overcome it hesitation about stating what it's really for and is trying to do.

  • It is really and has always been a sophisticated tool,

  • a tool that can help us to cope with things like loneliness,

  • that can fill us with hope,

  • that can help us to communicate our inner world,

  • that questions power and aims to improve political systems.

  • It is never an insult to ask art to do things for us,

  • to be a practical part of our daily lives.

  • We honor art most when we give it the highest task of all:

  • to help us to lead better lives.

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Art has a very high status in modern societies:

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思想の歴史 - アート (HISTORY OF IDEAS - Art)

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    劉蜀君 に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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