Tuesday, 28 September 2010

On Religious Art - Ivan Mestrovic

Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983,

On April 11, 1954 Ivan Meštrović was awarded the "Christian Culture Award" given annually by the Assumption College, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. This is his address of acceptance.

When Rev. Father Murphy wrote me a short time ago informing me that the Christian Culture Award Committee had decided to bestow upon me the 1954 Christian Culture Award and asked if I would accept, I replied that I would consider it a great honor which I would accept with great satisfaction. At the same time I asked Father Murphy for a little favor: while I was glad to be personally present for the Award ceremonies, I wanted him to have someone read for me these few words of acceptance. He graciously consented but must have wondered, as I am sure many of you present are wondering, why I chose not to read my own address. The reason is this: my medium of expression is the plastic form; and I discover that even in my native tongue the spoken word has not been the most effective way of expressing what I think and feel. Besides my English is still far too clumsy for such a solemn occasion as this.

Since this Award has been granted to me principally for my religious works, may I be allowed to confine my remarks to this field. Even in my first creative days I was aware of the fact that sculpture is a way of expressing one's feelings or the feelings of the national and ideological group to which the artist belongs. However, I must admit that in my youthful day passion for creating, I had no time nor desire to subject these feelings to a closer scrutiny and analysis. I selected for my works the themes from life as I saw it or as I imagined it to be. But I soon came to the realization that a wide gap existed between my views and the views of the ideological group to which I thought I belonged.

Moreover, I noted a wide divergence of views among those supposed companions of mine. This prompted in me another thought. Was it possible to accomplish anything significant and lasting in the field of creative art if one's feelings and basic convictions are chaotic, if they are not anchored in some unifying idea that transcends time and outlives both us and our epoch? I may say here parenthetically that many modern artists seem to fail to realize that the expression of one's own subject and ephemeral feelings without some deeper philosophy of life cannot result in anything enduring. Their works seem to be the products of a state of mind that can be described as follows: "I want to create something different myself but am uncertain as to what self is ... "

Going back to my story, I discovered very early in my development that I could not subscribe to the slogan "L'art pour rare' (Art for Art's Sake), the view which was then almost universally held, that art should serve beauty and aesthetic pleasure only. I asked myself: What constitutes beauty? Is every aspect of life beautiful? Is everything beautiful that has been created in visual art and poetry? For instance, is everything beautiful in Dante's Inferno or Michelangelo's Last Judgment? Obviously not, if by beauty we mean that which is pleasing to the eye and delightful to the mind. What then is beauty? Is it not the same as goodness, as the Greeks thought? Or, should not the order be reversed so that the good embraces the beautiful, i.e. that the beautiful is only that which is good, or more precisely, that which aims at the greatest common good?

The artistically effective then is not the same as the beautiful. Besides the forms and lines which give joy and delight to the eye and the mind, there are those which are not pleasing. The latter are needed to make the former stand out. Discords are there to throw harmony into focus.

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Journal of Croatian Studies, XXIV, 1983, – Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition byStudia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.
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