EP&M Online Essay

Essay on Sculpture


Michael Curtis

The Arabs, smiling, tried their scimitars on the arms of our tired Romans who fell like dried wheat.  And forward they rode dizzy with success, twirling their thirsty scimitars, the sands of Arabia behind them, the vision of God before them; the army of Mohamed –  with the song of the Koran stinging from their lips – harvested the civilized world and laid all I cared for to waste.  So it was with the Arabs, so it is with the Moderns.  Damn them.

I, like a Roman in eclipse, retire to my country-house, finding peace and contentment in my books, my pictures, and my statues.  Too, like an old cheery tree who sends forth a last desperate profusion of fruit and flowers, I have decorated my home  with columns of every description – thirty-some at last count.  So, I sit and read, and watch, and think.

You asked me, Arthur, for thoughts and words on sculpture: A large subject.  When young, largely would I have answered.  You, Sir, would have been burdened with a brief history – spanning several dozen pages – beginning with the Archaic through Polyklitos; the Greek canonical divisions, the Roman variants, the divergence of Medieval styles, the classical revival and its variations, then onto National styles, into the United States with our first and second generation expatriates in Florence and Rome, the third in Paris, then home to native-American – not Indian – schools, to the sculpture of Empire, et cetera: then, I would have gone on about the forms – abstract, ideal, realistic, and naturalistic – not non-objective; a non-object object despite being an oxymoronic concept cannot exist – the quality of volume, line and mass, content, precedent, and on and on until delight in my erudition devolved into tolerance, until tolerance itself became intolerable.  And you, like my long-suffering students, would have closed your eyes or in quiet snuck away.  And, rightly so.

Sculpture did not develop like a finch’s beak; in fact, finch’s beaks may not have developed like finches beaks.  Can Spencerian – the gradual development toward increasing complexity and from complexity through dissolution to the ultimate source – or Darwinian – the process of natural selection that favors those whose peculiar characteristics are best adapted to the environment – evolutionary theories be applied to civilization, culture, and craft: Is there progress in the Arts?  Look about you. 

And yet, the positive Progressives continue to smile a frowning, self-satisfied, contemptuous smile, convinced of the truth in their Koran, droning old prose passages lugubriously on.  Yesterday, I heard that one hundred art-historians named R. Mutt’s “Fountain” (Marcell Duchamp’s “urinal”) the seminal art-work of the Twentieth Century: A fitting tribute to the imagined progression of an imagined century.  Do they know that bored with their deconstructed, unmeaning lives they piss on their minds?   And do they care?

No, in fact, no one cares.  No one cares for ugliness, murder, and destruction,  except barbarians, and barbarians cannot long sustain themselves.  Sure, the Arabs enjoyed a brief flowering of Greco-Roman culture, as did the Goths and the Vandals. So too the Modernist-Progressives have lived off the fruits of Greco-Roman civilization – make no mistake, our civilization is Greco-Roman and the Modernists are envious barbarians thirsty for the destruction of our civilization – and they will continue to survive as-long-as they suck our civilization’s life-blood.  Should they succeed in killing their host it is they not we who will fade away.

What do people love?  Beauty and goodness.  What survives?  The beautiful and the good.  Those few beautiful objects of modernism may survive, the rest, unloved,  will decay and fade away while the classical will live on much beloved.  – I pause to laugh at the modern architects who have abandoned their glass houses for Georgian mansions. –Thus, it will be with the objects of modernism, so too with the notion of inevitable progress.

What is left, Arthur?  The God in us, the beautiful, the good, and the true.  For three generations I have battled modernism, the progressives, and the barbarians. I have struck them and watched them bleed; I have watched them whimper and scream, and I have listen to the ubiquitous modernist, progressive, liberal lecture – unmoved. Now, I watch them fade away, unloved.  I suspect, Arthur, that they will continue to smile the frowning, self-satisfied, contemptuous smile even though their scimitars have grown rusty, even though their arms have grown tired; even though they continue to drone their Koran, no one who matters is listening.

Behind me I see two growing generations of architects, painters, sculptors, and  poets of the Greco-Roman tradition inspired by the God within them, in love with goodness, greatness, and truth; and they are beautiful.  You remember the darkness of modernism, the battles with the mice and the spiders, the killing fields of the liberal university, the private-club of democratic government patronage, the prejudice of the modernist’s marketplace, their museums and tombs.  Well, these beautiful  young artists do not.  They see greatness and know it by the God in themselves.  By them we shall again see greatness in the world.  The modernist-progressives vampire-like are hungry for their blood.  Let us protect them as best we can.  Let us give them a world in which to grow.  Let us help give them life, that by their life we all may live beautifully and true.

The essay you asked for on sculpture I cannot, in conscience, write.  For, I no  longer believe in the social, evolutionary, historical theories I was taught.  Instead, I have learned that each man is a new civilization and that our civilization springs anew with each new man.  The forms used by an artist harmonize with the philosophy chosen by the soul.  For some, the soul chooses ideal forms, for others abstract, naturalistic, or realistic forms, each after the nature of their soul.  The stories and pictures an artist makes are peculiar to the artist’s experience and inclinations; all such stories and pictures touch the unformed forms in other persons and bring them to life: The artist brings forth from the God in himself objects that have  life in the object itself, and from itself, the God in others is brought to life and lives through them into a person’s every experience.  So, I cannot give you  an art-historical essay on sculpture.  The truth is, art-history is a myth. 

As verse and poetry are being reinvented, so too are painting, sculpture, architecture, music, dance, and philosophy being reinvented.   The old terms and methodologies simply will not do. 

I leave you with a verse to happily curl your lip: Avant-garde March.

Ride on Hegel, ride on Marx,
Ride on, ride on Alfred Barr,
Ride the magic zeitgeist train
In this the avant-garde parade.

As the globe spins round and round
The avant-garde must not slow down;
We march till time and space collapse
Then quickly, quickly we march backwards.

                                              Michael Curtis