Anthropological Conditions of Modern Culture

(1964)

Ivan Sviták

Conclusion

The modern work of art is a tragic testimony of man's being; it is to various degrees a manifestation of the alienation of man, who must find the key to himself in himself—if he has not lost it. The modern work of art expresses its creator's imagination and stimulates the imagination of the consumer, as can be seen most clearly in the case of an abstract, nonfigurative painting. The work of art is thus the projection of the social consciousness and feeling of its time. But it is not the simple representation of our human condition; it is rather a stimulus to man's insight into himself, it is an incentive to a deeper understanding of man as man. Modern art forms are conceived primarily as a means by which subjectivity, the artists' freedom, expresses itself. This subjectivity as an area of freedom is jealously guarded by artists, who rather infallibly feel that they precisely know that here, in subjectivity, they are defending an essential dimension of man against his enslavement by technologism and scientism, by this modern, universal religion of the intellectuals and masses. Art is becoming more and more subjective and ridding itself of the external ideology and phraseology of humanism. But the process of subjectivization is not harmful, because it is at the same time an appeal to the subjectivity of the consumer, because it stimulates his imaginative creativity and because the idea of art as the objective mirror of external facts is infinitely outdated in an age of mass information media. Only people who assume that the history of art is the alternation of periods of subjectivism and objectivism must see the trend of modern art toward subjectivity as a negative phenomenon; this is contrary to the real sense of historical development, which does not tend to transform people into a mass of little Marxes, but to open for the human personality the door to multifarious forms of existence, which have hitherto been the prerogative of artists and creators. Modern art is a living protest against the world that exalts science and technology, the world in which the whole man is becoming lost and in which history is constantly creating still more menacing situations, as if it meant to demonstrate the truth of the surrealist vision portrayed in the pictures "Hide Yourself, War," or "The Future of Freedom" by Toyen. [3] Naturally, the historical form of this protest changes and the "child of fury and darkness," as one the founders of surrealism, the Communist Louis Aragon, called this movement, must grow to maturity if it is to be up-to-date. But the humanist aim, which the avant-garde set itself when in chance, absurdity, madness, dream, sleep and the poetization of reality, it defended the true, optimistic, unalienated, anti-illusory values of man, endures and remains valid. Man's eternal longing to understand himself, to which modern art holds up a sort of shattered mirror, this age‑old longing drives man again and again to art, to philosophy, to religion or simply to thought. In our age, when science and technology are exerting an extreme influence upon our lives, this longing creates, in art, an eternal oasis of the marvelous in mankind. And "the marvelous is the only source of the eternal communion between men" (André Breton).

3 A Czech surrealist living in Paris. Ed.


SOURCE: Sviták, Ivan. “Anthropological Conditions of Modern Culture” (1964), in Man and his World: A Marxian View; translated by Jarmila Veltrusky (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 58-80. Conclusion, pp. 79-80.


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