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By Dr. Ulrich Spindler

Alexander the Great.

When speaking of art today, we think first of those forms which we encounter every day, art forms which are familiar to us through the media or through personal experience: film, theater, pop concerts. We think, too, of contemporary painting, sculpture, and photography.

Over and over, television, radio and the newspapers tell us what is modern in painting and sculpture, what is "in." The younger among us are impressed, and convinced that all of what the media propagate is really "great art," even though we do not care for it personally.

Moreover, this influencing of people's artistic values is inherent in the freedom of our society. What art history will show to be lasting, remains undetermined. Only subsequent generations will learn which values in art really make an enduring contribution to human development.

Ultimately, so-called contemporary art is only possible because art and culture have a long development and tradition in the history of humanity. A museum for European art in the United States has the important task of drawing attention to the roots of art and culture, to reveal the origins of cultural development in general, and with respect to America and Europe in particular. Its job is to inform, so that every observer can decide for himself what he considers art. It has been said: "Listen to your own inner voice." It will tell you what speaks to you and what pleases you."

The majority of U.S. citizens are descendants of Europeans. Their thoughts, feelings and actions are backed by hundreds of years of tradition and thousands of years of culture. This is true as well for those who allow themselves to be overly influenced by fast-moving modern development.

If we examine more closely the question of humanity's origins and development, it is fascinating to discover how much agreement there is among highly developed cultures on certain aesthetic questions. This is true even where cultures developed that had no knowledge of one another.

What we call European art and culture, that which comes out of Europe, is not always purely European. Through trade, or even wars, vastly different cultures have always influenced one another whenever the bearers of these cultures came into contact with each other. We know this from the cultural exchange between Europe and America after the discovery of this continent. Even older is the cultural exchange which took place during the time of Alexander the Great, when this exceptional ruler built a world empire that extended from Greece over Asia Minor and North Africa to India.

Not only Greek antiquity, but also Christianity and Judaism, have had a marked influence on European culture. The fact that the noble virtues of American Indians in Europe have also been viewed by generations, especially young people, as worthy of emulation, is likewise evidence that cultural values unite people.

The Museum of European Art in the United States will continue this process. It should be proud of the cultural and artistic values which its work promotes. It should be a place where the cultures of all continents may meet. It should help to preserve the classical artistic heritage of humanity, and it must promote a positive understanding of art in which culture is a standard for all people.

Copyright 1996 PROMETHEUS
Reprinted with permission

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PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.