Whenever we attempt to interpret a work of art, we are at once confronted with problems that are as perplexing as they are contradictory. A work of art is an attempt to express something that is unique, it is an affermation of something that is whole, complete, absolute. But it is likewise an integral part of a system of highly complex relationships. A work of art results from an altogether independent activity; it is the translation of a free and exalted dream. But flowing together within it the energies of many civilizations may be plainly discerned. And a work of art is (to hold for the moment to an obvious contradiction) both matter and mind, both form and content.
Again, the critic will define a work of art by following the needs of his own individual nature and the particular objectives of his research. But the creator of a work of art regards his work -- whenever he takes the time to do so -- from a standpoint very different from that taken by the critic, and should he chance to use the same language in speaking of it, he does so in quite another sense. And the lover of a work of art -- that is, the man of true sensitivity and wisdom -- loves it for itself alone, whole-heartedly, and in his unshakable belief that he may seize hold of it and possess its very essence, he weaves about it the mesh of his inmost dreams. A work of art is emmersed in the whirlpool of time; and it belongs to eternity. A work of art is specific, local, individual; and it our brightest token of universality. A work of art rises proudly above any interpretation we may see fit to give it; and, although it serves to illustrate history, man, and the world itself, it goes further than this; it creates man, creates the world, and sets up within history an immutable order.
Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, George Wettenborn, Inc., New York, 1948
copyright Ralph Aeschliman
Stuck in the Mud