Notes Toward an “Apollonian” Renaissance

The past has not deceived us.

We have all read revolutionary literature from Greek, Roman and Christian times through to Nietzsche and his “revaluation of all values” and right up to the long line of artistic manifestos of the 20th century, starting with the Italian futurists in 1910.

What follows is an exhortation, a slightly revolutionary manifesto itself, inasmuch as it looks back, way back to find a basis for future excellence in art, respecting the past, which, to parody Yeats, “has not deceived us.”

The current rather miasmal state of “art” finds among the very formulae for its decline the awesome efficiencies in the production of works, conceived and called art largely for the “newness” of concept, contrasting poorly in their palsied sense of tradition, of organic evolution and of careful creation, with the classics that column our sensibility. The discipline of execution is everywhere wanting, perhaps since the strictures of high celebrity, a requisite for today’s artists, overwhelm the work—laden process of creation. Commerce rules art, but not in the manner of the Medici; the speed and scope of delivery outpaces the importance of the matter delivered. The art market is self-generating and, like the inflated economy that it has become, the value referent of cost-versus-intrinsic value, like dollar bills to the gold standard, is so compromised so often as to hold actual worth to be not much more than the paper upon which the images are drawn or painted or printed. The craft that adds value is everywhere absent. The currency is morbidly inflated.

Spiritually, Nietzsche’s Dionysus has undone Apollo and our art spurns reason in a tipsy, self-inebriated and self-anointed binge of self–expression, attempting to capture the soul of our age by holding up a mirror of its very emptiness.

The age demanded an image

Of its accelerated grimace.

Something for the modern stage,

Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

 

Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries

Of the inward gaze;

Better mendacities

Than the classics in paraphrase!

 

The “age demanded” chiefly a mould in plaster,

Made with no loss of time,

A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster

Or the “sculpture” of rhyme.

 

More often than not, we have art that is self-satisfied and self-referential and not a lot more, or an art made to sell and sell quickly, reflecting the ambiguities and pointlessness of a perceived existential passage between the womb and the tomb.

Let us lift our sights to an art free of invention-for-its-own-sake, the concept du jour mediocrity that serves or intermediate the seller alone. Let us return to the cumulative development of what master workers created. In Italian, the word for masterpiece is “capolavoro” and the “lavoro” refers to work, to craft, to labor itself. Let us work to build upon the work of the greatest achievers, to improve upon it, and to develop it organically-much as Sabin Howard is doing. And let us then set aside one or two examples of concept-driven contemporary art as referral points that were tried once and now best serve as footnotes to the unfurling epic of Western art. Let us demand greatness in subject matter, in execution, in mastery, and in intention.

Let us:

  1. Create art that heeds Pound’s words about his art of poetry i.e. that it be: “News that stays news.”
  2. Excise concept-evolved art, looking again to the masters;
  3. Demand excellence in execution and fidelity to the greatest traditions of the West;
  4. Seek an end to media celebrity per se for artists;
  5. Demand elevation, not degradation in subject matter and focus;
  6. Prefer revelation over mere revealing: glorification of the shared divinity the human spirit breathes;
  7. Seek reason and clarity, instead of celebrating unreason and emptiness;
  8. Opt for meaning over vacuity: choose awe and inspiration from the subject, over the mere opportunity for self-expression;
  9. Cultivate devotion to the classics in every form;
  10. In all art, insist stubbornly upon beauty, intrinsic and inescapable, over denial and defilement; over nihilism as an ironic form of affirmation.

 

Let us view the world of art free from the cult of art and of the artist; let us end the marketing of “branded” art products that will not endure except as “marketed” goods.

We call for a renewal of the classics, of classicism, clarity, disciplined work, and vision beyond conceptual evolution. We desire technè and poesis, all over again.

The Apollonian conquers the Dionysian; the light in the darkness shows. Let us urge our artists back toward profound, historic, traditional subject matter that outdistances the desecratory, the prurient and the very empty sensationalism of agnosticism in art.

Let self-restrained artists and their art, once again, affirm the message of love, honor, and beauty that reflects the noble side of our humanity with a fearless reaching toward fidelity to the past.

Let art elevate us in a passionate poetry that brings lift, precious beauty, rhyme and reason to the sauntering soul of the present, a panting, suffering soul we meet too often on too many stages, canvasses, pages and screens.

O bright Apollo, it was Agamemnon’s hybris that sent your arrows down and set the fires burning as Homer so sweetly recounts: “aiei de purai nekuown kaionta thameai.”

Let Apollo reign.

Thank you.

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