28 March 2007

Romanticism and Classicism

Should you feel it necessary to develop a considered position on aesthetic philosophy (a felt necessity for only a small part of the population of the globe, I grant) it won't be necessary, or I think advisable, to do so by taking sides as between romanticism and classicism.

It is better simply to see those two labels as representing timeless possibilities for craftsmen, and markers in the history of taste. The history of taste, one might say, is a battle between novelty and connoisseurship. When a new movement gets underway, it is because taste has been sated by the old, and people are ready for novelty. Connoisseurs of the previous dominant school (which had been a revolutionary innovation itself once), who know all its rules and standards, are unhappy about this because their expertise has been rendered obsolete. So they end up writing art history texts, while the new school in time develops its own rules and standards, and its own connoisseurs. It time, this new becomes old, and the quest for novelty has been sated, so there is another break and the cycle is complete. That cycle has a lot of "cosms," micro and macro.

The greatest macrocosmic form of that cycle is the alternation between classicism and romanticism. I believe that what is known as "modernism" was in its essence a reversion to classicism, and "post-modernism" has been a re-enactment of the romantic rebellion.

By "classicism" in this sense I understand chiefly art that appeals to the intellect, whereas by "romanicism" I understand art that appeals chiefly through physiology. A classicism will understand the rightness of a chord, a romantic will feel the thrill of the trill. It is possible to write for either taste, for standards to develop around both, and for satiation to develop around both. Good and bad are possible in each line.

So let's not presume to choose sides between them, any more than we would presume to choose sides between hot dogs with, and those without, the relish.

The above is nearly identical to a column in my old blog posted a year ago today. I confess this before anyone catches me at it.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.