• How much art do we, humans, need?

How much art do we, humans, need?

This question gives the impression we "need art", just as we need air to breathe, water to quench our thirst, food to quench our hunger or a certain body temperature, sleep, and so on. But art? If those factors are vital and measurable, the question of whether the same applies to art cannot be answered so clearly at first. Not everyone is convinced we need art, perhaps not even the majority of society, because for them there are more important and necessary things that require all our effort. Art is OK, something for idleness, edification and above all for those who can afford it.

Or should we not even ask this question, because in reality it does not exist, because: "All people are artists" formulated the philosopher and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 - 1834) about 250 years ago (Schleiermacher's Poetic Attempts).

However, this is not the case. Only a few practise the arts as a form of expression, similar to our use of language, for example. So what could Schleiermacher have meant? He developed his thesis from the findings of the so-called "Enlightenment" and "Romanticism" on the question of what the spirit of humanity is: for him, it is a self-creating principle of life that always points to the origin. The Greeks called this power in the human being "Poesis", a root cause within the self of every subject. Through the will to act, Poesis, as a self-creative force, awakens formative forces for the shaping of one's life. Thus the forms of life arise through which the individual is able to relate to other human beings and to nature. And these formative forces develop from art, because art always aims at the formation of forms.The power of form is given to every human being. Thus Schleiermacher's philosophy that "all people are artists" is well founded.   

Consequently, a distinction must now be made between the previously described endowed artistic power in man on the one hand and the subjective urge to produce works of art on the other.

But why have people always had the urge to create art forms? Why did they juxtapose nature, perfected in its entirety, with the self-completed work: the artificial alongside or against the natural? Because people experience themselves as a spiritual unity that existed before creation and therefore appears to them as something higher, supernatural. They want to see this more, this higher, which goes beyond nature, realised in their natural world, in order to be able to experience it as a widening and heightening of the life situation in which the individual or society finds itself. "Thus, in man-made art, perfection is not desired out of purpose and egoism, but loved out of a longing for evolvement and development. The purposelessness, the selflessness of works of art virtually mirrors the transformation of ego (power over thought and actions of people and possession) into a love for humanity." (Martin Rabe, born 1942). What counts is the measure of humanity, man’s perfection. In this way, people create art for people from a position midway between the realm of the senses and the realm of reason. In doing so, they put order into chaos: - order into the infinite perceptions of our senses - order into the ways of reason, which in turn is so reasonable that through it we also learn to understand humanly, and know we are not able to explain everything with its help.

The Sophist Protagoras (485 - 415 BC) expressed this attitude in a principle: "Man (Latin homo) is the measure (Latin mensura) of all things, of those that are, that they are; and of those that are not, that they are not". This so-called "homo-mensura sentence” forms a foundation stone of the entire cultural development of Europe, which still relevant today. The development of man towards consciousness of himself.

With this we have now answered the question of measurability. Nowhere else, in no religion or science, is the human being exclusively the determining centre of thought and action, as is the case in art. For this, we always need an image of man for orientation, no matter in which field. There are many worlds that can be imagined. But only the world with a claim to reality that can be grasped in relation to the human being is valid. The world we can experience with all our senses. What image of the human being do we have today? What kind of humanism shapes our present?

Before I develop my thoughts further, it might be useful to consider the question of where the term art actually comes from. You are probably familiar with the snappy but hardly adequate phrase: "Art comes from capability (Kunst kommt von Können)!" Certainly not. Art comes first of all from experience. Without an experience, namely an elementary experience, I have no reason, no inspiration to become artistically active. Through art I can understand what I have experienced by recognising something of my own in it. Then it is an elementary experience. 

The idea of "skill" or “capability” may have developed from the Greek word "techne", which could mean something like artistry.

The understanding of art as we know it today did not exist in ancient Greece. Artists were not held in high esteem there for a long time. This only changed with Socrates, who was apprenticed to his father as a sculptor. Art in the sense of "skill" is rather derived from "melete", "epimeleia" and concerns the "diligence of caring", the concern for something. The understanding of a unity of melete and techne characterises, as it were, a basic position for the realisation of "being" out of itself, as a work of art always is. A work of art always refers to itself and never to something outside of itself. It experiences its effect in and through the recipient (viewer). 

Our current concept of art was coined in the middle of the 18th century, primarily by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). In the course of his enlightening thoughts, which emphasised the autonomous citizen, the prerequisite for an autonomous art was created. A free art presupposes a free citizen.

Historically, the German word for art (“Kunst”) is derived from the Old High German word "Kunnan". It contains the verb "to announce" (“Künden”), a message. And indeed, every work of art contains a message, never in the sense of a mission, but a message as a reference to the "possible", which transcends factual events and aims at development towards freedom. Thus, every work of art has a communicable message character.  It says something and thus has an effect. It is a form of human expression that cannot be circumvented, just like language. Art and language belong together, namely language as an "opining language", which is determined by concepts with which we want to freely express what we mean. Freedom of expression.

With the help of language, we not only want to explain the world to ourselves, but primarily to communicate with other people about it, so as not to become isolated. This is a profoundly human concern, which leads above all to the obligation for artists to give the recipient (viewer) a gateway of entry in their works and statements, of understanding into the artistic space they have created. To fulfil this openness of the work and thus the necessary communicative character of art is the task of the artist and his artistic will. Kant again: "Art is subjective, but we presuppose that it is also communicable."  

So where has cultivation through art taken us today? I leave it to each of you to form your own judgement on the outpourings of contemporary artistic creation, and then perhaps to pursue the question of where this beautiful craft has got to? A lot of noise is being made, much more than new works of quality are being created. Hasn't the aforementioned arbitrariness long since set in, like hubris, too much? Too big, too expensive, too much waste, etc.? How much art does humanity need?

In an aesthetics column in the magazine "Mekur, No. 6" from 2007, the art historian Christian Demand writes: "... and there is always more of everything, more artists, more collectors, more galleries, more art fairs, more museums and biennials, more industry, more pop, more hype...".

I am reminded of the famous story by the Russian poet Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) entitled "How much earth does man need?” He tells the story of the peasant Pachom. Thanks to a lucky twist of fate, Pachom has the opportunity to take as much fertile arable land as he reqires. But he apparently does not know how much this is, because he takes more land than he needs. In the end, he perishes. He had exceeded the human measure possible for him, his measure.

So how do I get the human measure into art?

I would like to explain this to you using the example of musical art. Because of its purely immaterial character, music has the most direct effect of all the arts on people's spiritual experience.

The sound resounds and passes away. Thus music always takes place in time. The listener must enter into this time. Only in this way can he experience it. So music always takes possession of our time. The time of music is our time and, as an art of time, it naturally reaches our ears particularly eloquently and speaks to us through sounds that invite us to dialogue as if in a resonance chamber. If this dialogue does not take place, it slips away from us as if we had never heard it. This linguistic character has been inscribed in it since time immemorial. The word "music" bears witness to this. The term goes back to ancient deities of language who, as the "muses of the world", gave us expression and meaning in their manifestations. The harmony of the tones, in which there is nothing earthly, reminds us that sound is of divine origin.

The ancient myth that tells of the Muses begins in the history of the creation of the world. When Zeus had created and ordered the world, the gods gazed in mute amazement at the glory that presented itself to their eyes. At last Zeus asked if anything was missing and why they did not celebrate the creation with words and songs? But the world was silent despite its overwhelming beauties. It remained within itself without expression. It said nothing. To replace what was missing, to give the world voice, language and expression, Zeus begat the nine Muses with Mnemosyme, the goddess of memory and remembrance, who dissolved the speechlessness of creation. The Muses each represent a world of language*. The world and things need a bridge, a language, with which they communicate with people. Without the voice, without sound, creation would remain stuck in the divine, as it were, and would find no fulfilment in man.

This cosmologically oriented view of the world of music was valid until Johann Sebastian Bach's time, then in the 18th century the aesthetics of the Enlightenment took over this role: a search for form for an art oriented towards the self-determining free subject. The human being moved to the centre led him to his music, classical music, or rather the music of the Enlightenment. This music can be experienced through our feelings, sensations, as something from our world and no longer from the gods. An art for us. A musician who wants to write good music has to give the music a certain something, which works because we find and experience something of ourselves in the music. This certain something, also called "the appearance of the known", is based on the one hand on what we call the norm structure: the craft, which is binding for the composer and also for the listener (the listener must know something of the craft). It forms the possibility of the general comprehensibility of music, or of art in the sense of a naturalness, which the recipient experiences most deeply in the encounter with himself/herself as something familiar. Only in this way is experience and understanding possible. The composer opens a door to himself/herself in the right measure, not too much and not too little. To get to know this for yourselves, I recommend you listen to the "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven (1770 - 1827). Become aware of how long the composer says nothing at the beginning of the piece and only creates mood musically, to begin with the composition, i.e. the language, afterwards, when he has "captured" the listener, as it were. The music of the Enlightenment wants to be music for everyone – that is its claim.

This, for example, is the only way to understand Leopold Mozart's constant admonitions to his son Wolfgang not to forget the "popular", i.e. the generally understandable (letter of 13.12.1780): "I advise you in your work not to think solely for the musical, but also for the non-musical audience - you know, there are 100 ignorant people against 10 true connoisseurs - so do not forget the so-called popular, which also tickles the long ears". Several examples of how he heeded his father's advice can be found in the opera “The Magic Flute”. In the aria "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen wünscht Papageno sich..." (Papageno wishes for a girl or young lady...) a glockenspiel trips along in a happy manner, accompanying a really catchy tune, and Papageno right at his first appearance claims: "ich Vogelfänger bin bekannt bei alt und jung im ganzen Land." (I the bird catcher am known to old and young in the entire country). These songs were sung and whistled by people in the streets of Prague, the location of the first performance.

We can also see from numerous works of painting, for example, how artists knew and paid attention to opening and offering the gateway to the human experience. Let us take look at the well-known painting by Raphael (1483 - 1520) "The Sistine Madonna". The painter added two dreamy, sweet little angels to the solemn scene at the very bottom of the painting, inviting us to witness the events surrounding Pope Sixtus. 

The Sistine Madonna, Raphael, 1512/13, Dresden, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie

For the sake of comparison, I have removed the angels on the one image and you can see the result: there is a deep seriousness and distance in the atmosphere.

In portrait painting north of the Alps, the sitter usually shows his or her face from the front and seldom from the side in profile, as was customary above all in Italy. And a hand is often added too, as if greeting the viewer and pulling him/her into the painting. This hand gesture is also extremely rare in Italian portraits.


Portrait of a Man with Coin, Hans Memling, 1480 or later, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten     

Rich Florentine Woman, Antonio Pollaiuolo approx. 1480, Florence, Uffizi Gallery

And so once again the question arises "How much art does man need?"

Only when we have a binding understanding of the expressive character of art in all its manifold manifestations of the past and present will we be able to grasp art according to its true aspirations, or rather, in the unity of experience and understanding, to deal with it in a way that is appropriate for human beings. This as a basic prerequisite also makes us safer in the face of the excessive stupid consumption of art encountered daily in much of the contemporary art today and which we are manipulated by. Currently, art reflects a form of waste mentality.

And so the question arises once again: "How much art, and in the form of works, does man need?"

I have tried to answer one aspect with references to history and mythology: man needs art as a form of expression, just as he uses language.

The second aspect, namely the question of the quantifiable quantity of art, i.e. "how much", can only be answered from today's situation, always with the condition that art remains an irrevocable form of expression. The answer can only be dialectical (dialectics is always the result of thesis and antithesis in the form of synthesis):

- If we ask how much, then we simultaneously assume a "too much";

- If there were not too much art, we would hardly need to ask how much!

Answer: we need so much art in order to be able to defend ourselves against sham art droning towards us in everyday life. Just as we use language to be able to resist what is spoken. The answer is paradoxical in a dialectical sense.

Today, it is no longer the muses who give us language and voice, but we ourselves who have taken on this task, but also the responsibility for it. We ourselves are the measure. As it is written in the temple of Apollo at Delphi: "Man know thyself".

Finally, a piece of advice from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

"To attain heaven,

is something glorious and sublime,      

but also on dear earth

it is incomparably beautiful.

Therefore, let us be human."

Very recently in the news: it was reported that the number one health issue in Japan is "loneliness of the individual". The Tokyo metropolitan region has 36.9 million inhabitants. Yet there is loneliness among people. Or does loneliness arise precisely because there are too many people. What is missing? Namely, the measure of man, the art of social coexistence and social responsibility. 

*The nine muses:

Zeus begat the nine muses with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and remembrance:

Calliope the Beautiful-voiced, muse of epic poetry. Attribute: wax tablet and stylus

Melpomene the singing, muse of tragic poetry. Attribute: Mask

Thalia the flourishing, muse of comic poetry. Attributes: Mask

Euterpe the delightful, muse of lyric poetry -> Aulos. Attribute: (tube, wind instrument)

Terpsichore the joyful one, muse of choral poetry and dance. Attribute: the lyre

Erato the loving, muse of love poetry, without attribute

Polyhymnia the hymn-rich, muse of hymn poetry, without attribute

Klio the praiseworthy, muse of historiography. Attribute: papyrus scroll and stylus

Urania the Celestial, muse of astronomy. Attribute: Globe with pointer stick