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"The Dehumanization of Art" and "mules, without understanding". Part 2.

An Alternative to Modernism

By Oleg Korolev


Eugene Berman. Siren in a Landscape.  Oil on canvas (1941)



Among those glorious men, as states The Oxford Dictionary of Art, were the Neo-Humanists in art, or Neo-Romantics which included Eugene Berman and Pavel Tchelitchew.

The term Neo-Romanticism has also been applied to certain painters working in France in the 1930s, notably Berman and Tchelitchew, who typically painted dreamlike imaginary landscapes with rather mournful figures. Their work influenced the British Neo-Romantics.

As writes the Art Encyclopedia: "These'Neo-Romantics' or 'Neo-Humanists' included Eugene Berman and Pavel Tchelitchew; at this point their eclectic, self-consciously traditional art offered an important alternative to modernism."

The Oxford Dictionary of Art also adds: "Neo-Romanticism. A movement in British painting and other arts c.1935-55, in which a number of loosely affiliated artists looked back to certain aspects of 19th century Romanticism, particularly the visionary landscape tradition of William Blake and Samuel Palmer, and reinterpreted them in a more modern idiom. The term was coined by the critic Raymond Mortimer in 1942. Painters and graphic artists representative of the movement include John Minton, John Piper, and Graham Sutherland, who all worked in a landscape tradition…".

But, the Tate Gallery site states that all started in early 1920s!

"In the early 1920s in Paris, a group of figurative painters emerged, whose brooding and often nostalgic work quickly became labelled Neo-Romantic. Chief among them were the Russian-born trio of Eugene Berman and his brother Leonid, and Pavel Tchelitchew."

"The term applied to the imaginative and often quite abstract landscape-based painting of Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and others in the late 1930s and 1940s. Their work often included figures, was generally sombre, reflecting the Second World War, with its approach and its aftermath, but rich, poetic and capable of a visionary intensity. It was partly inspired by the visionary landscapes of Samuel Palmer and the Ancients, partly by a more general emotional response to the British landscape and its history. Other major Neo-Romantics were Michael Ayrton, John Craxton, Ivon Hitchens, John Minton, John Piper, Keith Vaughan. The term sometimes embraces Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, and the early work of Lucian Freud. Also the graphic work of Henry Moore of the period, especially his drawings of war-time air-raid shelters."


Pavel Tchelitchew. The Golden Leaf. Paper, gouache, 63,5 x 49,5 cm (1943)


So, The Oxford Dictionary of Art enrolls them to the adepts of the art movement "Neo-Romanticism", as though they worked in 1930s, but the Tate Gallery specialists, who of course know which works and of what period are exhibited in their gallery, name them "Neo-Romantics" of "the early 1920s."

The point is: "the early 1920s" was a very important time on the world art scene. It was the moment of truth, which defined all the potential world art development!

The "non-transcendent", "new art" of Modernism, the art of "dehumanization": Avant-garde, Rayonism, Suprematism, Abstractionism, Neo-Plasticism, partially Dadaism, and Cubism gained momentum, and even José Ortega y Gasset himself wrote his Dehumanization in Art in the same years.

In 1924, the French poet Andre Breton published the Manifesto of Surrealism, which has become a big and quite complex art movement around the world, with its roots in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, influenced by Cubism and Dada, mixed up with the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud.

Even though the art style of Eugene Berman and Pavel Tchelitchew called "Neo-Romantics" or "Neo-Humanists", it has a certain difference from the British "Neo-Romanticism" of the 19th century, also somewhat influenced by Surrealism, and it could be described as a sort of Neo-Romantic Surrealism or maybe as a pre-Visionary art style.

Today, one of the most famous American Visionary artists, Alex Grey says: "The Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew was one of the great visionary artists of the 20th century (his obsession with anatomy and mysticism relates also to my own work). Tchelitchew's paintings evolved through metamorphic symbolism to x-ray anatomical figures glowing with inner light, and eventually progressed to luminous, abstract networks."

Well, since then Surrealism, as an extensive art movement was somewhat mixed, but still non-homogeneous, has finally separated after the Second World War, in the 1950s.

It is necessary to mention that the separation line was exactly within of the frames of the definitions of the philosophical work Dehumanization in Art, such as: "non-transcendence", a "dehumanization", a "striving to understand art as a game, no more", an "avoiding of the natural forms depiction" and a "deep irony", proclaimed by José Ortega y Gasset in the year 1925.

So, the 1920s played a significant role in the new self-realizing of the artists, which faced a fundamental and epoch-making choice between the ways in the global Art. The point is that in the following decades, on the one hand, we have a complete Art tradition which kept a transcendental depth and a belief in human potential in the personal spiritual evolution development and which has become rather an integral Metaphysical Neo-Humanism; and on the other hand, a product of the mechanical, closed to the cognition of the Divine, secularized and Nihilist mental work of a new "art discourse" and "dehumanization" in Art, as well as just "Ready-made". It is necessary to say that the Surrealist movement has divided itself exactly by this sign. For example Chirico and late Dalí belonged to the camp of the Neo-Humanists, but such persons like Breton and Duchamp were on the opposite side.

A "pre-Surrealist" or "Magic Realist" Giorgio de Chirico in general had a very special position. In 1919 he published an article The Return of Craftsmanship, where he vindicated the rights of the traditional Art. By the way, it is possible to notice certain parallels with the late attempts of Salvador Dalí to save art and the whole art salvation message of the "Golden Triangle" (Salvador Dalí, Arno Breker and Ernst Fuchs) in 1970s.

In 1920s, Giorgio de Chirico has also become a founder of the Magic Realism art movement. Among of the members also were: Alberto Savinio, Adolf Ziegler and Alexander Kanoldt. Magic Realism, mutually influenced by Surrealism, represented one of the forces in the trend of the "return to order", which took place in 1920s after the disaster of the First World War in Europe. The style name comes from a title of book: After Expressionism: Magic Realism, written by a German art historian and critic Franz Roh in 1925.


Giorgio de Chirico. Ariadne.  Oil and graphite on canvas 135.6 x 180.3 cm (1913)


The First World War, it seems, has played a significant role in the catalyzation of the objective social consciousness processes and in the art, which just reflected them. It affected the society worldwide, separating it between those who, after the catastrophe of the First World War and the mass suffering of people were totally disappointed in the humanity, its ideals, values and its rationality itself, and on the other hand those who still believed in the humanity. Even in the work by Ortega y Gasset we can find certain notes of such a cynicism in relation to the humanity.

As someone said: "a cynic its just a disappointed romantic". Old Humanists and Romantics became the past, and we now got the Neo-Humanists and Neo-Romantics, as well as their opposites, who already didn't believe in humanity.

But, I guess the point was not in the believing, but in the level of personal evolution itself. I mean, those who are evolutionarily advanced, whose stage is higher, had a personal connection with the Transcendent, so the" believing" in humanity was just a knowledge of the fact that man is something bigger and higher than just some "social element". Others, who had no such an empirical knowledge, could not see that at all. So, their art reflected certain mechanical, behaviorist reality, which seemed to them to be more honest than some "fantasy" or the "utopia" of those romantics.


Austin Osman Spare. Drawing. Self portrait with natives and reptiles.


Since then, the world is separated between the really "chosen", spiritual men who will "save the town", and on the other hand the cynical aberrant essences, those "mules, without understanding" of the spiritual, and non-connected to the Transcendence, which created the same sort of art. So, to the words of Franz Roh: After Expressionism (of the war time)--Magic Realism, we could add, on the one hand, but art of the "mules"--Modernism, on the other hand!

Returning to the "Magic Realism", we must mention a prominent master of mystical art, who also could be considered a master, who worked in this style: the English artist Austin Osman Spare. He was one of the most radical empirics, and used a technique of the "automatic drawing" and "automatic writing". Also he had a method of "sigilization" a graphical recording of certain sacred symbols, (for example runes) which could appear in the sphere of his perception, when he had been in some ecstatic condition.


Nicholas Kalmakoff. The Women of Nadjis (1911)


Also we must talk about Nicholas Kalmakoff, also a Russian immigrant, as Tchelitchew and Berman, whose art work activity took place at the very beginning of 20th century. His works appeared at art exhibitions already in 1900. In spite that many characteristics of his art correspond to the Magic Realism of 1920s, Nicholas Kalmakoff usually has been considered a representative of a Symbolism of the "Silver Age". His style had a sort of the Art Nouveau influence in the external approach, and mystical or a fantastic filling inside. Kalmakoff's art style had also certain parallel features with the style of the Fantastic Realist Ernst Fuchs, whose art also continues the traditions of the bright heritage of the Art Nouveau or Wiener Sezession and Jugendstil. The art of Ernst Fuchs also contains a mystical message, though in some cases it has been interpreted Surrealistically, and includes certain Hyper-Realistic elements.

We should not forget Johannes Franciscus Gijsbertus van den Berg or just Johfra, the Dutch artist, whose active art work period started in 1940s, who has become one of the most known artists of the style in the post-war period. His art also had bright features of Magic Realism, though he described it as "Surrealism based on studies of psychology, religion, the Bible, astrology, antiquity, magic, witchcraft, mythology and occultism." Johfra, together with Victor Linford, co-founded a "Meta-Realist" group, and in addition to these two, in the group participated: Frans Erkelens, Ellen Lórien, Johan Hermsen, Diana Vandenberg and Han Koning.


Johfra. Ontbolstering. Oil on a Panel, 120 x 90 cm.(1973)


So, together with the Magic Realism, the Neo-Romanticism of the "Neo-Humanists" there has appeared not only as a formal alternative movement to the whole Modernism, with the idea to save the traditional forms of art, but has become a manifestation of a nostalgic love to them human in art, as well as a belief and hope for the development of humanity in the never-ending evolutionary potentiality. To these styles, which had the neo-humanist and transcendentalists ideas, we must also add Neo-Classicism or Modern Classicism.

A member of the "Golden Triangle" (Salvador Dalí, Arno Breker and Ernst Fuchs).--which as a real order of art knights, also fought for the art salvation as did before Giorgio de Chirico,--the sculptor Arno Breker brightly represented the style of Modern Classicism. We have to notice that in the framework of the style he stood somewhere separately, but his art still contained a bright Neo-Romantic attitude to an idea of a human being in art. The Modern Classicism style also included sculptors: Aristide Maillol, Louis Dejean , Alexander Matveev, Georg Kolbe, Anton Hanak, Paul Manship, Libero Andreotti, Joseph Bernard, Jan Stursa, Constantin Brancusi, Antoine Bourdelle, Gustav Vigeland, Giacomo Manzu, Venanzo Crocetti and others. But Arno Breker, as well as the other two members of the famous trio, was also a Visionary artist. His Art has the transcendental features, and he had a vision of a human potential in the spiritual evolution development, though in the inviolable striving for perfection, even up to the total absolutization.


Paul Manship. Prometheus at Rockefeller Center


Some can say that Modern Classicism, especially in sculpture, reflected certain "totalitarian regimes" values, and of course will point the finger to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Well, this is a well known way of thinking of the people, which perception is locked in the non-transcendent space of dialectics those "mules, without understanding". First of all it, is necessary to say that many sculptors--representatives of the style also worked in the most democratic state in the whole world--USA. Among them were, for example, the famous American Modern Classicist Paul Manship (the creator of the "Prometheus" at Rockefeller Center), Leo Friedlander (perhaps the American analogue of Josef Thorak, who created the "Arts of War" sculptures, Arlington Memorial Bridge), Isidore Konti, Gaston Lachaise, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, Carl Milles, Solon Borglum, Charles Grafly, etc. But, since the art scene was already captured by the Modernists, they had no chance for fruitful work and development. Modernists have aggressively occupied the life space on the entire Art scene. They, as representatives of the new official art of the "free world", through the mediation of the non-governmental organizations and new art museums, received the commissions and just in general were sponsored by the US government in the period of the Second World War and the Cold War. Modernism, represented by the" Contemporary Art" movement has become a propagandistic weapon, serving as a visualized ideology by the so-called "free art", which had to become the opposite of the style dominating in Germany, the Modern Classicism, and the Socialist Realism in the Soviet Union, both styles being considered as "non-free". (Read books by Frances Stonor Saunders: "Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War", and "The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters").

Then, very soon the American Modern Classicism style itself, as well as all the rest of the Neo-humanistic art of the United States was marginalized, and substituted by the newly emerging pop-Culture and pushed down to the cartoon and cinema industry, where it appeared in 1938 as a surrogate in the image of "Superman" (the comic book scenario was written by Jerry Siegel already in 1932, and the cartoonist Joe Shuster became the author of the image). It is amazing, but to quote the Wikipedia: "Because Siegel and Shuster were both Jewish, some religious commentators and pop-culture scholars such as Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and the British novelist Howard Jacobson suggest that Superman's creation was partly influenced by Moses, and other Jewish elements. Superman's Kryptonian name, "Kal-El", resembles the Hebrew words which can be taken to mean "voice of God". The suffix "el", meaning "(of) God" is also found in the name of angels (e.g. Gabriel, Ariel) who are flying humanoid agents of good with superhuman powers. Jewish legends of the Golem have been cited as worthy of comparison, a Golem being a mythical being created to protect and serve the persecuted Jews of 16th century Prague, and later revived in popular culture in reference to their suffering at the hands of the Nazis in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s."

So, all "Neo-Humanistic" art was either marginalized, or substituted by the cartoons mass-culture surrogate, which nevertheless has, in the opinion of Rabbi Simcha Weinstein and British novelist Howard Jacobson, some sacral meaning. Currently, we can see the development of the Superman-Golem in the metamorphosis of the image to: "Batman", "Spider-Man", "Cat-Woman", etc. (it would be strange to see "Gabriel, Ariel" in the image, wouldn't it?). Since then, the creature has been appearing as a never-ending commercial image of the anthropomorphic essence of Terminators, RoboCops and legions of the Transformers in the video games.

Obviously, in our epoch of Post-Modern, all which we have is these electronic mechanical creatures,--Post-Golems and totally dehumanized Post-Modenist art. The game, it seems, is over. The the human being in art is dead!?

Hardly! This is rather an end of the "dehumanized art", which has exhausted itself and came to the suicidal self-repetition.

Nevertheless, the pendulum of the social consciousness now swings to the opposite side, and around of the world, here and there we may see some live sprouts of the new, very human and very spiritual Art--a total anthropological art, which involves all the human essence itself--Visionary art! The seeds were planted by the artistic constellation made of the great names, which are partially listed above, and which, in general, can be considered as a core of the world art "Neo-Humanists" movement in art, as well as the forerunners of the "Visionary Art" style.

To summarize, we may state that a really big gathering of the allied artistic styles has become the precursor of the world Visionary art movement itself: Symbolism, Neo-Romanticism, Metaphysical Realism or Magic Realism, Surrealism, Modern Classicism and Fantastic Realism.

The "Visionary Art" is pointing to the height of the human Transcendence, which is always independent, unconditional and non-conventional. The Transcendence is the core of the human soul, which always appears on the art scene whenever a major art cycle is over.

The Art sinusoid curve of the "conventional Art" has come to its bottom point, and this situation gives to the constant of the Art of Transcendence a chance to manifest itself again. This is the same, as if a snow and ice on the mountain would melt under the sunlight, and the rock, which always existed under it, would appear here in the unchangeable integrity.


Ernst Fuchs. Job and the Judgement of Paris* Crayon, pencil and gouache, 130x150cm (1965-66)


This is also like when a the dark cloud is cleared away; a pure and bright light of a new spirituality appears, creating new religious consciousness, which as a "Visionary Art" prophet and the elder of our times is represented by Ernst Fuchs. Maestro Fuchs has become a teacher of numerous artists and including myself, H.R. Giger, Roberto Venosa, De Es Schwertberger, Mati Klarwein, Zdzislaw Beksinski, Isaac Abrams, Philip Rubinov Jacobson, A. Andrew Gonzalez, Amanda Sage, Kuba Fiedorowicz, Brigid Marlin, Laurence Caruana and many others. Today, Visionary art is brightly represented by: Alex Grey, Lukas Kandl, Victor Safonkin, Dennis Potokar, Carrie Ann Baade, Laurie Lipton, Tristan Schane, David M Bowers, Otto Rapp, Jon Beinart, Erik Heyninck, Eli Tiunine, Bruno di Maio, Steven Kenny, Kris Kuksi, Maura Holden, Bernard Dumaine, Pauline Jones, Artur Golacki, Peter Gric, Martina Hoffmann, Olivier Zappelli, Olga Spiegel, Miguel Tio, Luke Brown, Satoshi Sakamoto and many, many others.

This is a very extensive subject; about the current world Visionary Art movement, its sorts of philosophy, structure and exhibition process it will be necessary to write a new series of articles, which I hope to do in the near future.



Alex Grey. Kissing. 66x46inch Oil, Canvas (1983)




"The Dehumanization of Art" and "Mules, without understanding" (Part 1), by Oleg Korolev


Oleg Korolev is a Russian Mystical, Religious and Visionary artist, painter. His art works have been on display in private and corporate art collections in Russia, Europe, North America and Australia. The official site of Oleg Korolev: http://www.koro-art.com





© PROMETHEUS 151/2010

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 151, January 2010