In a world full of turmoil and uncertainty such as ours, fine art can provide emotional fuel to sustain positive, life-affirming, universal, humanistic values. Because all art acts as a shortcut to our most fundamental premises (whether good, bad, rational, or irrational), it possess irresistible vitality and puissance for both immediate “gut” impact and lasting resonance.
Through an aesthetic process of bypassing our conscious value system and going straight to the “heart" of our unconsciously held premises, art makes our most deep-seated animating principles — our core values — accessible to us in physical form. This is why we feel such strong reactions of “I love this!” or “I hate that!” when encountering any art form. Here, I will confine myself to the visual arts.
Great art is a representational vision of values that dramatizes the beauties of the world and man’s compatible and efficacious place in it through images that portray a heighten reality, one that not only brings selected aspects of real life into sharp focus through compelling aesthetics but also communicates ideas. Classical Realism seeks perfection and universality, the idea of the ideal; e.g., ancient Greek sculpture.
Realist Realism seeks accuracy and specificity; e.g., 20th-century sterile, idea-absent “photo” realistic paintings. Romantic Realism seeks personal expression of values, imbuing art with feelings for ideas that the artist holds passionately about life and humankind, thereby suffusing the work with a glowing emotional essence.
Unlike 19th-century Romantics, the 21st-century Romantic Realist does not flee to history, mythology, the remote or exotic for subject matter by which to express individualized imagery, brushstrokes, or bravado. The contemporary Romantic expresses values through images of the present, the here and now, the real and relevant.
Today’s Romantic uses form (the physical presentation) to communicate content (human values via subject matter) through individual style (emotional expression), thereby making the means and the end merge, blend, and re-emerge as one totality of experience that unifies mind, body, and soul.
The whole then is much greater than the sum of its parts. Herein lay representational art’s ability to afford us a spiritual experience as well as an aesthetic one. The spiritual in art is not evoked by an escape from recognizable reality (as in unintelligible art) but by an embrace of it — existence and consciousness unified and experienced as one beautiful entity.
Ugliness and cruelty and tragedy are part of life, but the Romantic Realist knows that in art it is positive, life-affirming values that we need to see — to feel — in order to maintain the courage and energy to bring our own highest and most promising visions of values into existence in the real world.
In this brilliant scientific age that permits travel to outer space as routine, the time has come to initiate a journey to inner space, the humanities, to discover a deeper understanding of man as a spiritual creature who needs access to the profound meanings of life, meanings that are made mentally understandable through rational philosophy and, in turn, are made physically manifest through art, especially through the objectively intelligible and emotion-evoking power of Romantic Realism.
By enjoying and championing art that promotes beauty and life-affirming values passionately expressed, we celebrate ourselves, the best within each of us and the potential for all of us. The Italian Renaissance made ideas the prime mover that brought fresh life to the humanistic values established by the Greek creators of Western civilization, reason, responsibility, individualism, beauty, excellence, and after a long and dark age, those ideas were re-expressed anew through the magnificent art of the quatrocentro.
But the Italian Renaissance was not a revival of the Greek ideal. Artists of those wondrous days expressed the same primary values as their Greek forebears but tailored them to their own time and place: David, not Apollo.
Today in art, repeating the distant past is lazy. Damning the present is nonproductive. Distorting beauty is destructive.
Pretending that “installations” or “performances” of nonsense in museums and galleries are art forms is a worn out, 20th-century con game that needs to be dismissed. But making time stop still on canvas or in bronze in order to delight in and contemplate the perfections of our world and the possibilities of each of us in the family of humankind is sublime
Renaissance artists of the 21st century may well be the valiant, romantic “culture” crusaders of our day, their uplifting images leading and encouraging us to command the shores of a glorious future armed not with a sword but with a rose.
To view images of Romantic Realist art and read an exhaustive essay on the subject from which this article is adapted, please visit ART-21
and click on Art Galleries.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation. She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "The Innocent." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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