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Aphorisms and Popular Beliefs about what Art is Supposed to Mean

Art must unfold the soul of the artist and caress that of the beholder. It must offer joy and delight. And it must be beneficial and useful. And the recipes may go on; wherever you ask for an opinion, one will be gladly shared with you, a worthwhile recipe to follow will be recommended, with all the necessary ingredients and you will be told how a grand artist looks and behaves. Having common sense, lacking the desire to upset anyone, searching for appreciation and respecting the wishes of the audience. His beard is forgiven (as it is actually sought after, so that he can benefit from the indulgence with which he will be pardoned as a bohemian), his shabby clothes must reassure the audience that the artist is a poor starving man and that he graciously avails himself of the never-ending generosity of his sponsor. This most commonly takes place in our sweet provincial town which knows what is appropriate and what is not.

Without enouncing an apology to the Western world, it may be stated that that which is labeled as being “nonconformist”, “unconventional” or “deviant” by our fellow citizens which are most virtuous in what regards contemporary art, is considered to be an artistic statement to its full extent in an Austrian village, in an impressive cultural centre; as a summer exhibit with a small number of visitors (only a few more than a hundred). Mara Mattuschka was “producing” herself, a contemporary painter with a quite exhibitionist, self-ironic and critical style in what regards sexuality in the contemporary social context. The audience did not blush, did not shudder, did not revolt, but looked, commented, ironized, admired – to each his own.

What our pious dogmatists forget is that everything that ever took the form of art started off by unsettling and refusing beauty and the satisfaction of the soul by means of orthodox methods. A few randomly chosen examples may cause amusement. The other day I heard a student of the arts getting excited at the thought of the white Greek statues; even a great art historian had been wrong: they weren’t at all white, for the sea had washed them for centuries, they were painted in striking hues and placed in temples as if they were decorative porcelain figurines in natural size and Plato definitely had something against them.

“The Last Supper” (at the time regarded more as “The Nasty Supper”) was condemned by the entire religious community for showing a bunch of stray dogs and some characters which had nothing to do with the Bible. The Sistine Chapel is full of naked muscular “blasphemies” (wonderfully represented actually, but which have undergone a process of being “dressed up” for the sake of the prudes blushing at the sight of Adam’s nudity, even if the Bible itself declares that he was naked at the time around which he was created) and the Renaissance was not a movement encouraged by public opinion but by a handful of very rich noblemen, without the contribution of which nobody would have had any cultural tourism to practice 500 years later. Rembrandt has become an indisputable titan in the art world, but no one wanted his paintings at the time, as he – instead of being decent and painting “straight”, decided to place piles of colours in his work so as to obtain the chiaroscuro effect.

Goya disparaged the beauty meant to rejoice the souls, as war had awakened in him the macabre and so “The Disasters of War” were born, the prints which at the present day are regarded as “beautiful” and admired with emphasis in museums. The idea is actually that they are ugly; they are meant to shudder and shake the beholder.

Contemporary art has dug into everything that humanity has that is most hideous, most secret, most shameful, most revolting and sometimes it would have been better if it hadn’t brought anything to the surface. But art continues to do that because dogma exists only so it can be ignored and, aside from the soul, there still exist the complicated mind, humour and playfulness.

But let us come closer to our own homeland, in the 20th century. We are the country that has turned down the works of Brâncuși, although now they complement and tickle many a national ego. Back then he was a bit too avant-garde and a bit too minimalist for the Romanian taste, hungry for volutes and romanticism. We are the country which does not know of the existence of its contemporary artists, not because of the lack of internet connection, but because it does not know where and why to look for them. It is indeed an effort to leave your comfort zone, in which the painting hangs mellow on the wall and it is beautiful and art begins with a capital “a”. And once in a while it makes our souls – which are ravenous for beauty – happy, and the mind, it rests, it rests…

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