Aesthetic emotion in modern art

Image: Niki de Saint Phalle

By GRAÇA Aranha*

Opening address of the 1922 Modern Art Week

For many of you, the curious and suggestive exhibition that we gloriously opened today is an agglomeration of “horrors”. That tortured Genie, that yellow man, that hallucinating carnival, that inverted landscape, if they are not fantasy games by mocking artists, are surely wild interpretations of nature and life. Your astonishment is not over. Other “horrors” await you. In a little while, joining this collection of nonsense, a liberated poetry, an extravagant but transcendent music, will come to revolt those who react moved by the forces of the Past. For these latecomers, art is still Beauty.

No prejudice is more disturbing to the conception of art than that of Beauty. Those who imagine abstract beauty are suggested by conventions that forge aesthetic entities and concepts about which there cannot be an exact and definitive notion. Each one who interrogates himself and answers that it is beauty? Where does the infallible criterion of beauty rest? Art is independent of this prejudice. It is another wonder that is not beauty. It is the realization of our integration in the Cosmos through the emotions derived from our senses, vague and indefinable feelings that come to us from the shapes, sounds, colors, touches, flavors and lead us to the supreme unity with the Universal Whole.

Through it we feel the Universe, which science decomposes and only makes us know through its phenomena. Why does a shape, a line, a sound, a color move us, exalt us and transport us to the universal? This is the mystery of art, insoluble in all times, because art is eternal and man is the animal artist par excellence. Religious feeling can be transmuted, but the aesthetic sense remains inextinguishable, like Love, its immortal brother. The Universe and its fragments are always designated by metaphors and analogies, which make images. Now, this intrinsic function of the human spirit shows how the aesthetic function, which is to ideate and imagine, is essential to our nature.

The emotion that generates art or that it transmits to us is all the deeper, more universal the more artist the man is, its creator, its interpreter or spectator. Each art must move us through its direct means of expression and through them transport us to the Infinite.

Painting will exalt us, not for the anecdote, which it happens to try to represent, but mainly for the vague and ineffable feelings that come to us from form and color.

What does it matter that the yellow man or the mad landscape or the anguished Genie are not what is conventionally called real? What interests us is the emotion that comes from those intense and surprising colors, those strange shapes, inspiring images and that translate the pathetic or satirical feeling of the artist. What does it matter to us that the transcendent music we are about to hear is not performed according to established formulas?

What interests us is the transfiguration of ourselves through the magic of sound, which will express the art of the divine musician. It is in the essence of art that there is Art. It is in the vague feeling of the Infinite that the sovereign artistic emotion is derived from sound, form and color. For the artist, nature is a perennial “escape” in imaginary Time. While for others nature is fixed and eternal, for him everything passes and Art is the representation of this incessant transformation. To convey through it the vague absolute emotions coming from the senses and to realize in this aesthetic emotion the unity with the Whole is the supreme joy of the spirit.

If art is inseparable, if each one of us is a rudimentary artist, because he is a creator of images and subjective forms, Art in its manifestations is influenced by the culture of the human spirit.

Every aesthetic manifestation is always preceded by a movement of general ideas, a philosophical impulse, and Philosophy becomes Art to become Life. In classical antiquity, the rise of architecture and sculpture was due not only to environment, time and race, but mainly to mathematical culture, which was exclusive and determined the ascendancy of these arts of line and volume. The very painting of those times is a strong reflection of sculpture.

In the Renaissance, following the analytical investigation of the human soul, which was the predominant activity of the Middle Ages, humanism inspired the magnificent flowering of painting, which in the human figure sought to express the mystery of souls. It was after the natural philosophy of the XNUMXth century that the pantheistic movement spread to Art and Literature and gave Nature the personification that appears in poetry and landscape painting. Rodin would not have been the innovator he was in sculpture if the biology of Lamarck and Darwin had not taken precedence. Rodin's man is the perfected anthropoid.

And here comes the great enigma, which is to specify the origins of sensitivity in modern art. This supreme artistic movement is characterized by the freest and most fruitful subjectivism. It is a result of the extreme individualism that has been coming in the wave of time for almost two centuries until it spreads in our time, of which it is an overwhelming feature.

Since Rousseau, the individual is the base of the social structure. Society is an act of human free will. And this concept marks the philosophical ancestry of Condillac and his school. Individualism trembles in the French Revolution and later in Romanticism and in the social revolution of 1848, but its liberation is not definitive. This only came when triumphant Darwinism unleashed the human spirit from its alleged divine origins and revealed the depths of nature and its inexorable plots. The spirit of man plunged into this unfathomable abyss and sought the essence of things.

The freest and most disenchanted subjectivism germinated in everything. Each man is an independent thinker, each artist will express freely, without compromise, his interpretation of life, the aesthetic emotion that comes from his contacts with nature. And all the inner magic of the spirit is translated into poetry, music and visual arts. Each one considers himself free to reveal nature according to his own liberated feeling. Each one is free to create and manifest his dream, his intimate fantasy unleashed by every rule, every sanction. The canon and the law are replaced by absolute freedom that reveals them, among a thousand extravagances, marvels that only freedom knows how to generate. No one can say with certainty where the error or madness lies in art, which is the expression of man's strange subjective world. Our judgment is subordinated to our changing prejudices. Genius will manifest itself freely, and this independence is a magnificent fatality and against it the academies, schools, arbitrary rules of nefarious good taste, and of sterile common sense will not prevail. We have to accept liberated art as an inexorable force. Our spiritual activity will be limited to feeling in modern art the essence of art, those vague emotions transmitted by the senses and which lead our spirit to merge in the infinite Whole.

This subjectivism is so free that, due to the independent will of the artist, it becomes the most disinterested objectivism, in which psychological determination disappears. It would be Cézanne's painting, Stravinsky's music reacting against Debussy's psychological lyricism seeking, as already noted, to manifest the very life of the object in the richest dynamism that takes place in the artist's things and emotion.

This is perhaps the accentuation of fashion, because in this modern art there is also the wave of fashion, which to a certain extent is a deprivation of freedom. The tyranny of fashion declares Debussy old and smiles at his transcendent subjectivism, the tyranny of fashion claims the strong and violent sensation of the constructive interpretation of nature, putting itself in close correlation with modern life in its most real and unabused expression. Intellectualism is replaced by direct objectivism, which, taken to excess, will overflow from Cubism into Dadaism.

There is a kind of amusing and dangerous, and therefore seductive, game of art that mocks art itself. Modern music is impregnated with this mockery, which in France is manifested in the sarcasm of Eric Satie and which the group of “six” organizes in attitude. The making of this group is not always homogeneous, because each artist fatally obeys the mysterious impulses of his own temperament, and thus once again confirms the characteristic of modern art, which is the freest subjectivism.

It is prodigious how fundamental qualities of race persist in poets and other artists. In Brazil, at the bottom of all poetry, even free poetry, lies that portion of sadness, that irremediable nostalgia, which is the substratum of our lyricism. It is true that there is an effort to free this racial melancholy, and poetry takes its revenge in the bitterness of humor, which is an expression of disenchantment, a permanent sarcasm against what is and should not be, almost an art of losers. Let us complain against this imitative and voluntary art that gives our “modernism” an artificial appearance. Let us praise those poets who free themselves by their own means and whose strength of ascension is intrinsic to them. Many of them allowed themselves to be overcome by nostalgic morbidity or the bitterness of the farce, but at a certain moment the touch of revelation reached them and there they were, free, happy, lords of the universal material that they turned into poetic material.

Of these, freed from sadness, lyricism and formalism, we have here a multitude. It is enough for one of them to sing, it will be a strange, new, winged poetry that makes music to be more poetry. From two of them, on this promising night, you will hear the last “imaginations”. One is Guilherme de Almeida, the poet from Messidor, whose lyricism is subtly and freshly distilled from a distant and vague nostalgia for love, dreams and hope, and which, smiling, emerges from the long and sweet sadness to give us greek songs the magic of a poetry freer than Art.

The other is my Ronald de Carvalho, the poet of the epic of glorious light in which all the Brazilian dynamism manifests itself in a fantasy of colors, sounds and lively and burning forms, a wonderful game of sunshine that becomes poetry! His more aerial art now, in the new epigrams, does not languish in the frivolous virtuosity that is the artist's playfulness. It comes from our soul, lost in the astonishment of the world, and it is the victory of culture over terror, and it takes us through the emotion of a verse, an image, a word, a sound to the fusion of our being in the infinite Whole. .

The aesthetic remodeling of Brazil initiated in the music of Villa-Lobos, in the sculpture of Brecheret, in the painting of Di Cavalcanti, Anita Malfatti, Vicente do Rego Monteiro, Zina Aita, and in young and daring poetry, will be the liberation of art from the dangers that it is threatened by inopportune arcadianism, academicism and provincialism.

Regionalism can be a literary material, but it is not the end of a national literature aspiring to the universal. Classical style obeys a discipline that hovers over things and does not own them.

Now, everything into which the Universe is fragmented is ours, they are the thousand aspects of the Whole, which art has to recompose to give them absolute unity. An intimate and intense vibration animates the artist in this paradoxical world that is the Brazilian Universe, and it cannot develop in the rigid forms of Arcadianism, which is the sarcophagus of the past. Academicism, too, is death from the cold of art and literature.

I don't know how to justify the social function of the Academy. What can be said to condemn it is that it encourages the academic style, constrains free inspiration, curbs the young and ardent talent that ceases to be independent to pour itself into the mold of the Academy. It is a great evil in the aesthetic renewal of Brazil and no benefit will be brought to the language by this academic spirit, which kills at birth the deep and tumultuous originality of our forest of words, phrases and ideas. Ah, if the new writers didn't think of the Academy, if they in turn killed it in their souls, what an immense opening for the magnificent outbreak of genius, finally freed from this terror. This “academicism” is not only dominant in literature. It also extends to the visual arts and music. For him, everything our life offers that is enormous, splendid, immortal, becomes mediocre and sad.

Where our great painting, our sculpture and our music, which should not wait for the magic of Villa-Lobos art to be the most sincere expression of our spirit wandering in our fabulous tropical world? And yet, here is the Brazilian landscape. It is built like an architecture, there are planes, volumes, masses. The very color of the earth is a depth, the vast horizons absorb the sky and give the perspective of infinity. How it provokes the transposition by art, which gives it the highest realism and the highest ideality! Here are our people. They come out of the forests or the sea... They are the children of the earth, mobile, agile as animals full of fear, always in defiance of danger, and, driven by dreams, hallucinated by imagination, walking the earth in the eagerness to know and possess. Where is the art that brilliantly transfigured this perpetual mobility, this infinite progression of the Brazilian soul?

From the liberation of our spirit, victorious art will emerge. And the first announcements of our hope are the ones we offer here for your curiosity. It's these extravagant paintings, these absurd sculptures, this hallucinatory music, this airy and disjointed poetry. Wonderful dawn! It must be emphasized that, except in poetry, what was done before that in painting and music is non-existent. They are small and timid manifestations of an artistic temperament terrified by the domination of nature, or they are transplantations into our dynamic world of morose and languid melodies, marked by the academic meter of other people.

What we see today is not the rebirth of an art that does not exist. It is the very moving birth of art in Brazil, and, as we fortunately do not have the perfidious shadow of the past to kill germination, everything promises an admirable artistic “blossom”. And, freed from all restrictions, we will realize the Universe in art. Life will finally be lived in its profound aesthetic reality. Love itself is a function of art, because it realizes the integral unity of the infinite Whole through the magic of the forms of the loved one.

In the universalism of art lies its strength and its eternity. In order to be universal, let us make of all our sensations aesthetic expressions, which lead us to the longed-for cosmic unity. May art be faithful to itself, renounce the particular and make the painful tragedy of the human spirit, lost in the great exile of separation from the All, cease for a moment, and transport us through the vague feelings of shapes, colors, sounds, touches and of flavors to our glorious fusion in the Universe.

*Spider Grace (1868-1931) was a writer and diplomat. Author, among other books, of Modern Spirit (National publishing company).

Republished in the book Mário de Andrade and the Modern Art Week (Editorial lighthouse).


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