Lost secrets of classical art and the subsequent failure of modern art

Lost secrets of classical art and the subsequent failure of modern art

by Charles Harris
article from Monday 13, March, 2017

AS WITH ALL SECRETS, to have value they have to be respected. So I will begin this new series with an introduction to provide background before we go next to study a famous Raeburn portrait at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

Thus to help extradite matters on this occasion, please do begin by imagining a seaside resort somewhere. It would be a pretty place with brightly coloured painted houses all along its promenade. A river runs through a part of the town ending in a small harbour, where many of the old buildings still exist. Mostly late Victorian, these elegant buildings were a symbol of the popularity the resort had experienced in a past era, with those private bathing huts, and that early tourism the railways had brought.                                                  

Over time, the resort has just grown up the side of a steep hill behind, in a variety of shapes and sizes, with very splendid views from the top. And naturally set within these properties, are many B&Bs or Hotels, to accommodate tourism throughout the year. While for the public and tourists alike, these locations are happily enhanced outside today with modern art decoration, including decorative railings along its kerbsides, or next to the zebra crossings in a similar fashion; or hanging brightly from lamp posts, all in a further attractive modern manner. While in little parks beside the houses, with their charming flowering gardens, stand weather-darkened concrete conceptual objects, all seeking to softly combine modern art with the flowers of nature.

And the resort is proud of the acclaimed beauty of this new art, that sits similarly harmonious with its new modern buildings of glass and steel. And this is evident also in the new centre, with its lightly cobbled pedestrian walkways, showing a collection of modern sculptures of cement-fondue and tubular steel in prominent positions.

For the resort has its own Art School with a long Victorian heritage, and daily encourages the manufacture of these modern objects, which the local, regional, and national media happily photograph, and then write splendid reviews of encouragement. This old art school does still historically support the need for life drawing, like the other schools in the resort, which also encourage this within their curriculum.

And although the houses mostly throughout the resort do not actually have drawings hanging on their walls, as their owners prefer television screens, some owners still do commission the occasional portrait of themselves. And these are usually worked in a modern fashion from photographs, for we are told conventional drawing and paintings take too long and results have more meaning in photographic detail. Of course, this means they are easily and quickly completed in 2D photographic methodology, along with an important artist statement – not created instead with that otherwise unguaranteed long attempt at 3D in traditional classical reality.

So what do you think now, having considered our imaginary resort and its description? And what is missing if anything from above?

Love of the Sea

     Beauty is like the sea today

     Without its experience being drawn by sailors or oarsmen who venture out upon it

     Nor are its maritime values beneath perceived

     But it is described instead by likely landlubbers who stay nearby

     In crude shouts and salty language

     For the many who merely whisper

     Or sunbathe upon its shores.

                              Charles Harris


While in closing an introduction regarding achieved results, words, and actions in Art, here is a further important lost secret today, for when considering art standards and in the art of poetry, our past Scots-born poet poet beautifully and delightfully explained – where his last two lines leap out at you in perfect truth for all art today:

Ars Poetica

     A poem should be palpable and mute   

     As a globed fruit,


     As old medallions to the thumb,

     Silent as the sleeve-worn stone

     Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

     A poem should be wordless   

     As the flight of birds.


     A poem should be motionless in time   

     As the moon climbs,

     Leaving, as the moon releases

     Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

     Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,   

     Memory by memory the mind—

     A poem should be motionless in time   

     As the moon climbs.


     A poem should be equal to:

     Not true.

     For all the history of grief

     An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

     For love

     The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

     A poem should not mean   

     But be.

                         Archibald Macleish 1892-1982

Photo: The beach at Pescara. Copyright Charles Harris 2017 Trust Your Heart

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