By Prof. Hermann Oberth
Member of the Alexander Order
APOLLO AND DAPHNE, a bronze relief by Arno Breker.
Art, be it the plastic arts, literature, music or dance, a skilled handicraft, etc., is of greater influence on world events than many politicians think. Many a modern man would be astonished if he knew how great a part the neglect of our artistic drive plays in contributing to stress diseases, heart attacks, the disharmony of public life, and yes, even crime.
Art is currently in danger, and I would like to write a bit about averting this danger. In so doing, I will address my statements to the intellect for two reasons:
a) There is a majority of rational-minded people who underestimate the significance of art, and rational people can only be convinced with rational arguments.
b) Normally people who have sensitivity and a love of beauty do not need to be given a rational explanation for what they feel; nevertheless, today the wirepullers of degenerate art address their sophisms to the intellect, and people with good taste require intellectual artillery in order to convince others that it is not they who are antiquated, narrow-minded, provincial, uncultured, and ridiculous, but rather the others who are wrong and they who are right.
Art and the Human Being
To what extent then is the human being governed by this striving for "harmony" or beauty?
As already mentioned, the human being represents a rather new species in nature. Furthermore, even today his living conditions are not yet stable and, perhaps, never will be, because his own culture will always require new tasks of him. This is the reason that the instinct for self-preservation is so strong that people who live in the North do not wish for bodies which are "beautiful" in the context of the principle of harmony.
Our bodies and our ideal of beauty only exhibit a few subtle signs of a striving for harmony; these are most evident among the Polynesians, because their struggle for existence has been the easiest in the last few millennia. Initially the principle of harmony is exhibited only in unimportant points which are not immediately noticeable to an enemy: red lips and cheeks, bright teeth and eyes, thick and shiny hair, the absence of odorous perspiration, a melodious voice. With that, so far as the physical appearance of the human being goes, enough has been said about the demands of the principle of harmony.
However, where the human being's desire for beauty does not concern the body, the striving for harmony really comes into its own. And this striving for beauty leads the human being to art.
The Task of Art in Human Life
Originally art came from the instinct to play. Within every higher being there dwells an instinct to maintain his powers through exercise. A cat plays with a mouse or a ball of yarn; dogs fight playfully with each other; horses gambol about, etc. In the human being this instinct is likewise especially strong. He is continually driven to work with his hands, to observe, to imagine, to talk and express himself, to exert himself physically, to develop his powers of perception, and so on.
In addition to these activities purely for the purpose of exercising and improving the abilities, Nature also shows us love and mating games. Animals play these games, in part to attract a mate and in part to prove their strength and agility, and to get rid of their rivals in a manner which is less harmful to the species than fighting and killing those rivals.
Art serves three purposes:
2) The demand for higher development of the race.
3) The demands for pure harmony.
Concerning objective #1:
The expression "demands of the age" is not especially fitting. Perhaps someone can come up with a better phrase. What I would like to convey is this:
We live in a specific environment. As long as we accept this, we have the task of stimulating and exercising our physical, mental, and spiritual faculties in order to master the tasks which confront us. Consequently, each epoch produces its own especially artistic ideal.
The approbation of the environment, however, is the less important task of art. More important is its ability to remedy the damage which accompanies the spirit of each age.
Any form of social living prevents people from following their instincts and inclinations as freely as they could if they were alone in the world and could always do what they liked. This imitation engenders in our psyches ill humor and tension which must be eliminated again and again.
In a sound sleep dreaming takes care of this. Those parts of the brain which are not needed during waking hours are especially active during sleep. If someone has fasted during the day, he will dine all the more sumptuously in his dreams.
Many people are so anxiety-ridden that the day's events pursue them in their dreams. This is not unhealthy per se . The nerves function similarly to the muscles. If they are overstrained, then relaxation exercises are best. Nature works in a similar manner: When our brains and nerves are overtaxed, sleep relaxes them.
Nevertheless, there is a limit where our individual defense mechanisms are no longer adequate. Here art comes to our aid, transplanting our psyche into a world where it can recover. In a certain sense art is as superior to sleep and dreams as a modern tractor is to the pointed stick with which some Robinson Crusoe tends his own garden. For art contains the traditions of former epochs and the thoughts of exceptionally capable individuals!
Concerning objective # 2 (the further development of the race):
The ethnologist likes to make use of group photography. A large number of randomly chosen individuals are photographed in such a way that in all the pictures the eyes are superimposed, or so that the lines running between the eyes and down to the mouth overlap. Next, all the negatives are superimposed on the same positive. If this is done with a large number of people, then the individual variations which are apparent in just one or a few photographs disappear, and the actual traits of the race which are characteristic of all its members become clearly evident. Similarly ethnologists will occasionally study the physique of a race by choosing a uniform height and adjusting the other features of all those they study to the height in their drawings.
If the same thing is done with the people who are portrayed in works of art, or rather, with people who are very similar to those in art works and who appear beautiful to the layman, or a group of beauty queens, or the most popular actors, then the result is a group portrait of what I would call the ideal or racial ideal, of the given ethnic group. It differs as follows from the actual average racial specimen which is determined from randomly chosen samples:
If pictures of the ideal, the average racial type, and prehistoric man--e.g., Neanderthal--are laid side by side, the ideal will be different from the average as the average is from the prehistoric. Now personal taste plays a large part in the choice of a spouse. A girl who looks, smells and thinks like an orangutan has less chance of marrying and having children than a girl whose appearance resembles the Venus de Milo or the Sistine Madonna and whose way of thinking is similar to the heroines of famous epics.
A man who looks like the Apollo of the Belvedere, behaves like a knight, and is fearless in the face of death or evil, will also have more luck with the ladies than will a vulgar, ugly coward.
Thus art points us toward the further development of the race, and in reply to the question of what came first, the species or the ideal, we must give the surprising response that the ideal was there first. We are coming very near to the ideas and teachings of Plato or Dr. Rudolf Steiner, but that cannot be avoided, for this is the way things are....
An excerpt from the book Primer For Those Who Would Govern by Prof. Hermann Oberth.
A copy of the book can be ordered from West-Art, 10545 Main Street, Clarence, New York 14031 (USA). Price is $ 20 plus $ 4 for shipping.
© PROMETHEUS 121/2007
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 121, July 2007