“Reflections on Art” by the Founder of AAMI, Miha Murn
Throughout human history, there has always been a higher will to create, a will to pursue art. An individual has always wanted to date, demonstrate, explain or merely express something in every human culture. Art has always opened possibilities for all of the above and it has laid the foundations within our boundless mental space for all that is, for all that exists. It has shown us the meaning of expressiveness and emotions that we have given life to in several ways through our sense of visual aesthetics. An expressive ability has opened to us boundless opportunities to declare, feel and express everything that we carry within us. Every human being has their own unique content that shapes their individual role on the face of the earth. Every human being can express everything they want, at any time they want, by using this unique content.
Art shapes space and time in the highest sense, it is the only tool that enables an individual to enter a higher reality, the one that contains more truth than the reality we like to call “real”. Science will never be able to provide proofs for that which can be made evident through art. In the field of science, everything has its visible purpose, meaning, need … Art, on the other hand, is the realm where the visible or the real is not important. What counts, is only the satisfaction the authors experience when they please the senses and when they express their inner world, their inner content. Art has always somehow been ahead of the culture and techniques of its time, however, it has always been an influential factor in their development. We can say with a great certainty that art has, throughout human history, represented a metaphysical moment of human work and creativity. On one hand, art is connected to the technical procedures and on the other, to the ability to perceive the visible and invisible. Science uses perceptions and observations to give rise to further thinking, experimenting and formulating hypotheses. Art, however, sees these perceptions and observations as stimuli that an artist, through their thoughts and imagination, transforms into a work of art.
Through all the perceptions, techniques, imagination and stimuli, artists create value, produced through art and aesthetics. Aesthetics is not only about some overall beauty, ideality and usefulness but also about pleasing human senses and perceptions. By being aware that art per se carries a more or less ideological potential, it is possible to understand and explain the interest in art that can be positive as well as negative and can be reshaped through society and culture. Throughout historical cultures, a certain enthusiasm and interest in art has always existed and never entirely disappeared. Aesthetics and art have always been basic common values of humanity; therefore they have been present throughout entire human history. Human beings have always had the need for the beautiful, the designed and the aesthetic … Art has developed from some sort of “common art”, from the so-called representation of the visible into the mentally designed world of the invisible. Nowadays, abstract art is the truest symbol and the proof of the existence of the world of invisibility and omnipotence. As artists can freely choose their motives, compositions, materials, etc. without any kind of limitation or repression, abstract art opens unlimited horizons for creating and satisfying all the senses of human beings. Abstract art is one of the most demanding artistic styles because its intention is not merely to decorate and be a medium of a certain message but to depict the idea of boundlessness. This artistic style is also one of the few, where no concrete rules apply, one of the few, where creators are free to leave their works untitled and freed from the limitation of motives and frameworks to be able to use their full power of expression.
This stlye leaves every choice to the author and does not limit them with the rules or patterns of what is acceptable in a certain society or environment. Abstraction enables an artist to break the cycle of values and rules and it can, through a single bold move, turn the traditional world upside down. It is one of the artistic styles which is the most difficult to comprehend and one of the most disputable forms of expression. Abstract art is often viewed as some “thing” and not as a creation, as many are convinced that as a matter of fact, anyone can work and create within the field of abstract art. The majority sees it as some sort of nonsense and some incomprehensible depiction of the world. This shows a lack of awareness that art is not a depiction of the world but of something higher, a product of our ideas with no link to the real world. Almost everyone who does not take interest in art or is not in contact with the artists somehow despises it and this is why art becomes so special. People have become narrow-minded and caught in the socially acceptable patterns, they have forgotten about the possibility of the broad perspective and thinking, about the new, about that which has not come to exist yet. Most of the people in the art have become “slaves” to the traditional styles, where an unwillingness to look further into a new sphere of creativity and a lack of awareness of that which is yet to come prevail. However, they will inevitably have to discover once that almost everything has been done in art before and that almost every artistic style has emerged throughout the history of the human kind. However, one of the greatest styles has not been done before and this is abstract art. More and more individuals present themselves as modern conceptual artists. Hopefully, they will manage to make the blind see again and show to the society that the art of today is about good ideas and performance and not about some sort of search for purpose and sense of creativity. This is not what the role of the artworks is. People have slowly forgotten, or maybe some have never known that art has to exist, regardless of its usefulness. We need it because a great majority of what we feel and think can be expressed through words, music or action and because certain thoughts that are buried deep within us can only be expressed by creating new artworks.
Through creating, we not only help ourselves find the best expression, but we also try to share the artworks with others and this is why they need to be exhibited. Through practising art, the author of the artworks, as well as the audience who have seen and experienced it improve themselves. This effect of pleasure, derived from a contact with an artwork, has been known since the period of Archaic art in the ancient Greece. This time was marked by the emergence of the first works of art that were not created for a strictly defined purpose but for the sake of the personal decision, because of the inherent idea and the aesthetic pleasure that it can provide. This period saw an overall awakening of the artistic field as several discussions and texts on art started emerging. It was the beginning of the assessment of artworks and this practice resulted in faster improvements of the established styles of the period. It was a revolutionary turning point in art as no discussions or assessments in art from the earlier periods had been known. Be it the first cave paintings in Lascaux and in Altamira, or various anthropomorphic figurines and products made of iron from the Iron Age, or the Mesopotamian ziggurats and the Ishtar Gate, or the great Egyptian pyramids and temples, the art of the Minoan civilisation and paintings in the vast palaces, or the Mycenaean military art – the ancient Greek art had brought something new, previously unfamiliar in all of the above arts. It was the first to define some truly sound rules on symmetry, perspective, ratio and scale.
Greek art was followed by Etruscan and Roman art, which brought some innovations, especially in the field of construction, such as arch and dome. Romans introduced and gave meaning to the portrait in the field of sculpture. Their art had a touch of realism and sharp psychological depth to it. Soon after, Christianity, a strictly persecuted religion of that time, started to spread in the territory of the Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan by the emperor Constantin I in 313 AD gave Christianity a legal status and this brought a revival in Christian art, the foundation for many a later historical period in art in our space. Later on, a connection emerged between Christian motives and symbols and Byzantine art with its centre in the modern-day Istanbul. This resulted in development of mosaics, frescoes and icons in that area. Meanwhile, various peoples, among them Lombards, Franks, Angles, etc., started populating the Roman Empire and developed a method of massive construction of stone buildings as well as a method of miniature painting. One of the most beautiful examples of miniature painting, the Book of Kells, dates back to this period. Later on, the period of Carolingian art emerged in Europe. Charles the Great renewed the institution of church and took initiative to restore the Roman Empire with the assistance of the pope and helped art gain new momentum. This artistic period is also characterized by its use of subject matter from antiquity in the visual artworks. On the contrary, the following period of Ottonian art searched for inspiration mostly in Byzantine art, even though the influence of art was still present. The Ottonian period in architecture, sculpture and painting was further influenced by the tradition, established by the first emperor, who was crowned by the pope himself in 800 AD and was therefore considered the holy Emperor of Europe. In those times, the artworks were mostly commissioned by the court of the emperor, by the church and rich individuals to demonstrate their noble status in society. This was also the case in ancient Egypt. The time of Ottonian art was followed by Romanesque art that was influential by the early thirteenth century. It was a period, when monastic cultures, pilgrimage sites, pilgrimages flourished and when monastic orders developed. The institution of church as well as all of these events importantly influenced art. Consequently, sacred buildings were among the most common architectural projects of that time.
These also remained prevalent during the following period of Gothic art, which was greatly influenced by the emerging nation-kingdoms, crusades, phenomena of the mendicant orders, rapid economic development and the spreading of the urban residential areas. At the time, the strength of the bourgeoisie increased and they were commissioning more and more artworks and became important supporters of art. In the field of architecture of the time, there was an emergence of the skeletal construction, with walls reaching dizzying heights and with multicoloured windows that made the building convey the image of holiness. Thus, a simple uneducated human would feel there as if they had come to paradise. The gothic period was characterized by total works of art (Gesammtkunstwerke) that could only be created by use of all the art disciplines, from sculpture to painting and architecture. The rebirth in art, the so-called Renaissance, started in the fourteenth century. It was also a time when humanism and the bourgeoisie began to increasingly support art and to protect it. The intellectuals, the well-educated and gifted individuals close to the modern idea of an “artistic genius”, increasingly gained importance. In the Renaissance Italy, Leonardo da Vinci, the genius of architecture, engineering, a great inventor, sculptor and a poet created works of art that have remained a key basis for exploring the rules in creative process. The revival of naturalism and the culture of antiquity in the Renaissance period gained completely different dimensions than in the Gothic period. Centrally-planned buildings and redesigned elements of classical architectural components emerged in the architecture of the time. Further improvements in architecture were achieved in the following period of Baroque by the inclusion of elements of sculpture and painting. There was an enormous rise of absolutist monarchies that greatly influenced art around Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The principles of Catholic renewal were expressed in the painting of that time through the application of religious motives, but not so much in the protestant countries of the Northern Europe. Some of the most famous architects, among them Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini and painters, such as Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, created in that period. The modern era also brought the emergence of Rococo, a new artistic style from France. The development of this style can be traced through artworks, commissioned by the aristocracy and artworks, inspired by the exotic cultures. Sculpture of the time was especially decorative in nature and this influence caused sculptors to mostly create miniature sculptures.
There was a similar situation in painting of the Rococo period. After 1770, Neoclassicism emerged in art and it reached the peak of its influence during the France’s bourgeois revolution. Neoclassicism can be understood as a response to Baroque or Rococo, while its development was also influenced by some of the socio-political and cultural conditions of the time. Sculpture of that period drew on classical Antiquity for its form and subject matter. Meanwhile, painters emphasized the message connected to the ancient antique ethics. Clean, clear and simple forms prevailed in architecture. All of this changed with the nineteenth century that saw emerging of Historicism in architecture. There was an increasing interest in the past in this period. Besides renovation works on various significant monuments, the construction of one of the most famous buildings worldwide took place. It was a time when Charles Barry constructed the Palace of Westminister in London, when the architect Charles Garnier built the famous opera house in Paris and when the Provincial Theatre in Ljubljana (Deželno gledališče v Ljubljani) was constructed by the architect Jan Vladimir Hrasky. The technological progress and the influence of the industrial revolution became a subject matter in the art in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was the industrial revolution that introduced the so-called “engineering architecture” that gave rise to several bold constructions by civil engineers. The materials used in the construction of buildings were mostly steel, glass and iron. The best example of that architectural style is without a doubt the Eiffel Tower, built by Gustave Eiffel. Simultaneously with various other artistic movements in Europe, Romanticism emerged and it was especially influential in music, literature and, of course, in painting. Through its inherent romantic spirit, emphasis on individualism and subjectivism, the artworks influenced by Romanticism were characterized by their dramatic, elevated style and emotionality.
The famous historical events and emotionally laden motives from the legends prevailed in the painting art. One of the best examples of such type of painting is the artwork Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix. Landscapes became increasingly important as they were laden with symbolic meanings. Similarly, patriotic and historical contents were also present in the sculpture of the time. Meanwhile, the Realism started to emerge, at first in France. In contrast to the romanticist artists, the realists started to turn to everyday scenes from the lives of farmers, workers and other common people. It was a time of the development of lithography that increased interest in caricatures and emphasized their meaning. It was also a period of the first internationally acclaimed Slovenian painter and teacher of painting, Anton Ažbe, who reached his fame after he had founded his own private school of painting in Munich. As an expression of resistance to the naturalist and classicistic style in painting, Impressionism, which is considered a milestone between the traditional and the modern art, started to develop around 1860. Impressionists started to violate the rules of academic painting and distanced themselves from the usual historical, social and religious contents. Artists developed a habit of painting outdoors and no longer found their inspiration in the studio which was called plenerism. Some of the most well known European painters of the period were certainly Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas. There were also four important Impressionists in Slovenia: Matija Jama, Ivan Grohar, Matej Sternen and Rihard Jakopič. Later on, Post-impressionism developed as a result of freedom of artistic thought. The time of Post-modernist painting was certainly marked by the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, who was one of the first to understand art as an expression of personality. Painting thus became extremely diverse. At the end of the nineteenth century, art started looking for a richer and a more intellectually challenging subject matter.
In a similar fashion, distancing from the emptied subject matter of the academic art also took place in sculpture. It became clear soon afterwards that everything was possible in art because artists realized that rules no longer had to be observed and that they no longer had to pay such a strict attention to the influence of the socio-political developments. There was also a development of Symbolism, an artistic movement that inspired each artist to develop their unique personal style. Works of art started to be understood as an idea. Painting created close bonds to literature and music. This was also a time when the “femme fatale” subject matter was introduced, representing an erotic relationship between a man and a fatally attractive female. One of the most important painters of that period was Edvard Munch, whose painting the Scream expresses everything that symbolism strived for.
After Symbolism, art focused mostly on the usability and decorativity of artworks, while its subject matter still remained closely linked to Symbolism. This international movement is called Art Nouveau. In this time, the use of various combinations of materials and new patterns was emphasized. Painting of the time was characterized by an excessive decorativity. Artists sought their inspiration in the ancient styles and found ways to innovatively redesign them. This was also a period when posters became widespread artistic products. One of the greatest contributions in achieving this can be ascribed to Henry de Toulouse, who surprised the public with posters that communicated various events in 1890.
The most famous architect of the period was most certainly Antonio Gaudi with his sensational Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona. The most recognizable painter was definitely Gustav Klimt. He was an Austrian illustrator, painter and the leading representative of the Vienna Secession. The coming twentieth century brought changes in all the areas of social life and consequently also changes in the field of visual art. Art started to emphasize changes in developments and ideas on the changing lifestyles. The pace of life became a lot faster. Einstein’s theory of relativity shaped a new understanding of time and space and Freud’s definition and explanation of subconsciousness started to change the view on human nature. These radical changes required art to “modernise” and redefine its position and meaning in the society. Consequently, the early modernist avantgardes emerged. Each of them communicated their artistic standpoints through their visions and manifests. In the midst of these developments, Fauvism, a style of artists with a shared preference for pure colours, emerged. The meaning and power of the colour is also emphasized in Expressionism that was a response to the conditions in the society. This movement is mostly characterized by deformation of bodies and shapes, painted in intense colours. Futurism is another avant-garde movement which emphasized the break with the human history and called for the faith in technology and speed of development.
Cubism was the most radical avant-garde movement, as it rejected all the rules of mimesis as well as painting of objects with the help of perspective and it established new principles. This movement introduced a new technique in the visual arts, called collage. The most recognizable artist of this movement and also the most famous artist of the twentieth century was the Spaniard Pablo Picasso. Constructivist movement had a different understanding of art from Cubism. These artists advocated interconnectedness of life and art and aimed at putting their artworks to practical use; therefore they started applying the technique of montage in their creative processes. By contrast to the idea of artworks with a utilitarian purpose, Surrealists, influenced by André Breton, included subconsciousness and dreams in their creative activities. This avant-garde movement systematically attacked the bourgeoisie and acknowledged the Freudian dream analysis.
Some of the most famous members of this movement were Salvador Felip Jacint Dalí Domènech and René François Ghislain Magritte. Simultaneously with the avant-garde movements, there was also an emergence of the abstract art that was no longer considered one of the historical artistic movements, but a manner of expression. This is an artistic style that no longer uses the material world in its depictions. One of the most famous movements of the abstract art was lyrical abstraction, introduced by the Russian artist Vasilij Vasiljevič Kandinsky. This period was also greatly marked by the work of the famous Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian. After the Second World War, New York became the new centre of visual arts and it was the place where abstract expressionism and pop art developed. Pop art started to depict the world of consumerism and introduced a new graphic technique called screen-printing. Later on, with the emergence of conceptual art, art moved from closed to open spaces. Shorty after, in the 1980s, the new figural painting became more and more influential than abstraction and it gave rise to postmodernism. Quite soon, contemporary art emerged, an artistic style where all rules of creating are dissolved and where new techniques of depicting became widespread. This movement has been firmly rooted in the world of art until today and it enables artists to express their individuality.
Thus, we can see that art has become more individualized nowadays than ever throughout history. In the past, it had to serve the regimes and individual rulers and it had to limit its moves and conform itself to the acceptable forms of expression in a certain regime. Nowadays, the seeming freedom of speech and democracy has opened opportunities for unlimited expression and art has gained a new momentum for innovation. Thus, the contemporary art of today is one of the best ways to express our individuality and our thinking without any kind of social constraints.