Because of their new approach to subject matter, the artists of the Renaissance were the first ‘free’ artists, in our sense of the word, to break with the traditional role of the artist.
When artists in the 17th and 18th century began to cast classical sculptures and architectural elements at the academies, these forms where simultaneously liberated from their social and representative context. The forms were studied as autonomous objects and through sketches and drawings after plaster casts one gained insight and knowledge about their shapes and proportions. Thus an autonomous language on sculpture was developed independent of what king or deity the sculptures were originally meant to represent. Thus art was made free as an independent way of knowing. Plaster in the 18th century liberates the reality of form and art, thereby creating the precondition for the modern concept of art.
If art loses its own space it disappears as an independent way of knowing. This is why the work’s physical form is important.
Asocial sculpture is the basis for social sculpture.
When it is later argued that the Modern artists break with tradition this is nonsense. The Renaissance artists break with tradition, in the 18th century this break is then canonized by the Classicists, and this is what is taught at the academies in the 19th century. Here the classical casts are studied by both sculptors, painters, architects, and artisans.
Visual modernity is therefore not a rebellion against traditional art but against the academies and their Salons. Which is why the relation between tradition and modernity should be understood as being much more complex than the ‘usual’ rhetoric makes it seem.
Our contemporary belief that modernity equals knowledge based on theoretical evidence in contrast to traditional knowledge based on experience and intuition is therefore in many ways false.
In part this helps to explain the hate/love relationship, complementarity and interdependence that exists between a subject’s personal form of expression and the community’s desire for images showing us a common connection in the world and in our lives.
This conflict has been part of art since the artists of the Renaissance did as they wanted.
Therefore it is a catastrophe when politicians today try to impose a university superstructure and hierarchy on art (at the academies), legitimized exclusively on theoretical and evidence based structures. Art and science are complementary concepts.
The encounter between art, architecture and craft happens precisely where the mental and the physical, theory and experience, aesthetics and ethics can be sublimely expressed in matter.The situation is made even more tragic by the fact that the development which I have sketched out for the arts also practically applies to the classical sciences.
A confused political belief in quantification, measuring, structuring and theorising as being the truth about everything, and the total materialistic world view and marketing of every- thing, is threatening to destroy the wonderfully complex European house of culture that the sciences and arts have built up since the 13th and 14th century.
The verdict of history and time will be merciless.