Saturday, June 28, 2014

A question on the arts

Has anyone noticed the unevenness in the geographic distribution of great art in Europe?

For example the Dutch can claim some of the greatest painters but have produced almost no musicians of note?

The central Germanic-Austro Hungarian region has many great musicians but no serious painters or even writers ?(Goethe and Schiller excepted). The reverse is true of Britain, plenty of great painters and writers but only a handful of musicians.

In sculpture, Italy reigns supreme, all the great ones seem to be confined to that country, I have not heard of any major figure outside Italy.

The question is why is this so? Could one reason for the peculiar distribution of skills be economic?

In society, the arts require a minimum amount of leisure. Societies living on the margins of existence will rarely produce anything-people will be spending their time searching for food and the basics of existence, there is no time to spend on abstract thinking or creation.

With increasing wealth a society can support craftsmen and artisans who are not directly engaged the production of food or other necessities of life.

Could the different ways in which countries or regions developed have affected the way in which the arts developed?

The early civilisations of Greece and Rome set the philosophical and aesthetic  foundation for Western art. Emperors, Kings and the Church were early patrons whose dictates may have shaped the development of the arts before economies developed to the point where merchants and the general public could become supporters.

Perhaps they way training took place - the way the necessary skills were learned and transferred have played a part?

These are just questions that occurred to me. Does anyone have any thoughts? 


Anonymous said...

I agree with your general premise that art specialisations tend to follow the money. I partially disagree with the suggestion that these specialisations are spread by geography or factors such as leisure.

I think behind the money was the political environment. Politics decided who had the money and how they spent it. Thus funding for certain types of art was dictated by politics. The geographical spread I think it just a consequence of these political factors.

Historically, the visual arts have been an expression of political power. Rulers rise to power with blood and carnage. Then build impressive works of art to show how wealthy/powerful/civilised they are. Europe is no different. The mix of art and politics is intense in Italy during the Renaissance. Monumental art was a key political tool for both religious (papal states) and non religious rulers (The Medici). It projected ideology via religious art (Eg art of the Catholic Church. Political propaganda eg Michelangelo's David representing the defence of civil liberties on the Republic of Florence.

The crude summery : big art was a matter of political survival. So there was an incentive for the people with the most money and power to splash out and out do each other with big art projects. This naturally created an environment for a professional class of artists. Monumental art was where the money was. It created such a big body of work that even when the focus of European art shifted away to say Paris, the cultural heritage of Rome and Florence was hard to ignore.

The rise of merchant driven economic power in Holland personalised this use of art. In the Dutch Republic the money was for more individualised art around: portraiture - small groups or individuals. These were also statements of status and power. More Gucci than North Korean style statues.

Again there was an economic demand to support a professional class. As this professional artist class grew with guilds etc they had the ability to innovate and experiment. So you get Vermeer and Rembrandt.

I think music follows a similar trend. Music meant the ability to fund orchestras of skilled musicians. That meant basically aristocrats. Monarchs or a rich religious establishments. So imperial Europe - specially the Austro Hungarian empire. Composers in Holland did exist but there was no sustained ecosystem that promoted their works. Political cultural factors - such as Calvinist ideas about music seems to be a major influence.

Germany had quite a lot of painters Albrecht Dürer, the Holbeins (elder and the younger). In earlier times these artists went to powerful patrons with lots of money. They glorified their patrons (thus enhancing there political prestige).

In later years such as the 1920s there was a commercial market for fine art. It sustained the German Expressionists to become major players in modern art. Despite the turmoil of WW1 Germany. Bauhaus school influenced design in several commercial areas including industrial design and architecture. It still does despite being closed by the Nazis in the 1930s. The political factor here was a climate that allowed greater experimentation and freedom.

Anyway this was not meant to be a treatise or anything like that. Just some thoughts I've had about art history provoked by your post into gelling together. I could be horribly wrong :D Your posts tend to always prod the mind out sluggishness with a red hot iron. I've been jotting this down over a few months now but finally decided I'm never going to edit it properly so here it is :)

Jack Point said...

Thank you Cerno for that informative and very interesting reply.

I hope to hear more from you on this...

The thing about ideas is that they tend to bounce of each other-I've been complaining that there is very little feedback or posts on the blogosphere which will get ones mind going, so thanks for the response.

cerno said...

I know the feeling. These days there's so much demanded of time that I feel lucky to peck out 2 sentences while in the can!>