THE FORCE OF BEAUTY
Does beauty exist?
The ancient Chinese said that in picking out the beauteous we give birth to the ugly. But for Classical Europe beauty was always a great force: «The elders stood when Helen entered», wrote Homer.
The Greeks valued beauty as something divine and the realistic art of the Ancient Greeks was totally directed towards the embodiment of this divinity. But for them the most important thing was not the art, it was the beauty and the greatest discovery of Antiquity was a method of objectivising beauty. For how indeed does one identify the most beautiful? «Kalos» or «beautiful» meant above all invincible male strength and it the «agonistika», the ritual contest which aimed to identify the elect, which provided the ideal models for sculptors and artists. The Olympiad and other games opened the world before the victor-ideals: the young Aristocle, after his victory in wrestling at the Isthmian Games, went on to became the philosopher Plato.
But time passed, and everything changed. In the medieval period spiritual beauty was no longer linked with physical strength, and realism became superfluous. The Antique traditions were marked down as «paganism» and the battle with the agonistika began. The Theodosius wiped out 6,000 citizens in the amphitheatre at Thessalonika for their adherence to the Olympic movement; Justinian closed all the ancient physical culture centers, leading to a number of uprisings, in turn cruelly put down: 30,000 people were killed at the Byzantine Hippodrome during the «Nika» uprising alone.
During the Renaissance, Greek culture was rediscovered, including its physical element, but the agonistika proved to have been lost. The artists did not know the canons of beauty; identifiable beauty was sought in nature, but without the agonistika such searchers became subjective. The ideals were personal and rarely became public ideals.
But time passed, and everything changed. At the beginning of the 19th century Friedrich Ludwig Jan (1778-1852), basing himself on the works of Archangelo Tuccaro (end of the 16th century) and the ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, began to revive gymnastics. 185 years ago the first public performance took place at Hasenheide near Berlin, and in 1816 in Hamburg the first German gymnastics society was founded. Thus began the true renaissance. But it was just that, a beginning. In 1819 gymnastics were forbidden for a long 20 years. Only in 1842 they rehabilitated. Efforts had, of course, been made to revive the Olympic Games during the Renaissance. In 1516 Johannes Ackville organised «Olympic exhibition performances» in Baden; the English dramatist Thomas Kyd (1544-1590) raised the Olympic idea onto the boards; in 1604 the royal prosecutor Robert Dover, with the support of James I, conducted «Olympic Games» which then were held for almost a century. Art historians also took an interest in the Olympiad. Joahann Joachim Winckelmann was killed in 1768 in Trieste whilst preparing for excavations at Elis. But his work was continued by Richard Chandler, Ernst Kurzius and many others. The King of Greece, Otto I, in 1859 conducted the first official Olympic Games of the new age in the restored stadium at Athens. The idea of the Olympic movement, reborn on the basis of Neo-Antiquity, became at last an integral part of the new world art thanks not to the Greeks but through French diplomatic channels, which were extremely influential in international relations throughout Europe. On 15 July 1889, at the international Athletics Congress, Pierre de Coubertin raised the question of holding a series of international contests modeled on the Olympiad of antiquity. In 1896, the «first» Olympic Games were held in Athens, and thus the agonistika was reborn.
The renaissance of Olympic ideals was accompanied by the flourishing of sporting fine art. Alexander Schneider founded the Kraft-Kunst Institut in Berlin, where artists, as in ancient Greece, were able to study the human figure through the ideally-developed bodies of sportsmen.
But the subsequent path taken by art led at the end of the 20th century to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s complaint that there were no sculptors who could capture his achievements in the culture of the body. On the other hand, the common seeking after beauty at the end of the second millennium led to beauty contests becoming an everyday reality. Art criticism’s rejection of the concept of «beauty» clearly demonstrates its alienation from the realities of modern life, dominated by advertisements and the cult of ideal models. The names of modern standards of beauty - Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jeff Stryker - are known to almost everyone on the earth.
Photography, one of the few arts to remain faithful to the beautiful image, is becoming increasingly popular at a time when the so-called modern art supported in the majority of European states, art which is alien to beauty and which has broken its links with the Classical traditions, is attracting the attention of but the few.
But time goes on and everything is changing. The 1990s can be boldly described as a new Renaissance. In different corners of Europe, true artists, paying no attention to the bewilderment of their colleagues, are returning to traditions. Postmodernism is now perceived simply as a period of transition. Indeed, not long ago the artists who painted a picture in the spirit of Classical art was forced to bow and scrape and apologise to the critics - «it’s a joke, irony, a simulation» - hoping to be forgiven. Today he is at last able to forget the tedious, uninteresting so-called artistic criticism, which is most important of all uninterested in the beautiful. We are undergoing a Renaissance, and we can show our paintings and sculptures to sportsmen and models, workers and collective farm workers. They will understand.
Novikov T.: "The power of beauty" // Stedelijk Museum Bulletin, Amsterdam. P.29-30,
Novikov T.: "The power of beauty" // New Russian Classicism. The edition of the State Russian Museum. SPb. P. 217-222, 1998