There are no societies without Art.
“Art is like food,
no one says I don’t know about it
when he goes to the restaurant”
There are no societies without Art.
This is my starting point. The creation, the invention and, in general, the artistic creation was immediate and spontaneous. The graffiti in the Lascaoux caves bear witness to this, but without leaving Italy, the rock engravings in the Val Camonica (on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1979).
Moving on, and without going into the importance of art in the history of the world, we know that it was used above all to assert power, whether papal or aristocratic and noble. One of the most representative periods in history in this respect was undoubtedly the Counter-Reformation (1545-1648), when altarpieces, cycles of frescoes and printed images were used as tools to educate the faithful. Art was a veritable medium that compensated for the lack of Latin knowledge of most, if not all, of the faithful, together with the high level of illiteracy and the fact that the Mass was celebrated in Latin (and was until 1969).
I like to associate the idea of art with that of society, and when I think about it, an important historical fact comes to mind: Sisto IV’s donation in 1471 of some statues that were to form the first nucleus of the Capitoline Museums in Rome.
I am referring to the Lupa, the symbol of Rome, the Spinario, the Camillus and the colossal head of Constantine with globe and hand, bronze works that are now on the Campidoglio and were kept in the papal offices of the Lateran. The Pope, for all his power and role, at a certain point did not think it right that these works should be enjoyed only by a select few and decided to ‘give them back’ to the Roman people, to offer them to the community as a whole. There is an underlying statement in all this: art is public, it belongs indiscriminately to every member of the people. It has always seemed to me that artistic production is necessary for the development of society, the community and personal growth – because it should be able to stimulate reflection – as well as contributing to the general bien-être. It is not by chance that the protection and promotion of art and culture are now included in the articles of our Constitution.
And if art was then used – and I use this word provocatively – to give form to ideas, it is no different today. The only difference is the distance from the artistic product: it is much easier to consider as art that which is chronologically distant from us, because we have had the opportunity and the time to understand and absorb it in its historical context, and therefore it is now included in the ‘pot’ of historicised facts. And therefore inevitably accepted.
However, I am aware that it is at least an attempt to understand that contemporary art fits perfectly into the ranks of what has happened before. It is just more difficult to see. In order to insist on this, I would like to make a cross-reference in order to allow thoughts to flourish: there is an artistic trend that is highly appreciated today, Impressionism; but just as it was strongly opposed because it was considered so degraded that it was exhibited in the Salon des Refusés – an alternative that brought together artists who had been rejected by the more prestigious ‘official’ Salon – so today we hear and witness considerable disputes and controversies about the art produced in our time.
I would also like to add a reflection to help us rethink this contemporary production.
Art history is a historical discipline, which means that it is based on documented facts that leave a trace on this earth. I like to use this expression because it seems to trigger a dialogue with Giacomo Leopardi, when he writes: “E fieramente mi si stringe il core, / A pensar come tutto al mondo passa, / E quasi orma non lascia” in La sera del dì di festa (1825).
And well, art leaves a footprint!
And if art is a historical discipline, insofar as it has the privilege of documenting a historical period or even moments, it should be considered with the dignity of a very valid tool for delving into the era in which we live. Artistic souls, I believe, are endowed with a strong sensitivity, and I am inclined, in the light of years of reflection, to think that they have an intrinsic role as mediators between society and the citizens, thus penetrating into the political sphere. Their creations communicate, through whatever language, a direct or indirect effect of an event or simply an atmosphere in which we are immersed. Precisely because we are immersed in it, sometimes our eyes, our intellect and others involved in it may not react in a clear way. And this is where art comes in as a useful tool to decipher this confusing reality.
Art is a child of the time that produced it, and therefore it inevitably contains reflections on history, philosophy, dominant thought and that which crawls in silence instead, on what is revolutionary and that which seeks to break away from the academies or officialdom.
Compared to the past, it is certain that sometimes the effect of awe is not sought in the mastery of technique or the graphic or pictorial representation. As anyone familiar with these concepts knows, in contemporary art we are moving from the realm of technique to that of ideas and concepts. And what could be more beautiful than uncovering the underlying mechanisms of human thought and thought through artistic practice? Not that there has not been some reflection on the most appropriate compositio to propose, but at a certain point – and this is 1839 – a scientific discovery will change our relationship with art forever: the invention of photography.
Why continue to search for a copy of reality when a machine (initially the daguerreotype) was capable of reproducing it perfectly on its own? It may seem obvious, but I believe that a beautiful reflection can be born from the realisation that this invention opened the way to create something different and unfamiliar: to go beyond the real datum. To go in search of what had not yet been thought of or even imagined. To repeat: the idea became more important than the form, and some time later came Duchamp, Fontana, Pollock and many others who, with their proposals of what could be considered art from that moment on, accelerated a now unstoppable process.
With these words I do not wish to establish anything in particular, but perhaps to address those who are more suspicious of this world. My intention is to provoke reflection and to offer some suggestions for thinking about contemporary art as a tool for understanding our reality, an appeal to give it the value and dignity it deserves.