Intimate Greece

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WHILE official art, the great decorative and religious art, was losing sight of its wellsprings, intimate art remained near them and continued to drink from them. The hero, who came up from the people, has disappeared, but the people is still there, and in it the Greek soul survives. The people undergoes the corrosive influence of intellectualism and of gold more slowly, and the flame of life smolders in it even when it is entirely extinguished on the upper levels. Even at the times of the worst decay the instinct of the multitudes contains all the elements of the higher life; only the awakening of new desires through the appearance of new needs is required to call forth the great man and to ripen in him that instinct which the dead mass of his ancestors and the living mass of mankind have intrusted to him. Brutal animal power and the power of the intelligence are our only weapons for the conquest of our organization. The average civilized man, however, is as far from spiritual order as he is from direct possession. He has not yet attained the former; he has lost the latter. We are in the desert.

It is the people throughout the whole extent of the Greek world who gather up the scattered elements of the soul of antiquity. The workman of art takes the place of the hero. The uprooted tree is to cover the earth with leaves. From the pavement of the Greek cities emerges a world of trinkets, figurines of metal and of terra cotta, jewels, engraved stones, furniture, coins, and painted or incised vases. Yesterday the man of genius was at the service of the people. To-day the man of the people is at the service of the man of means.

The bond that unites the great artist with the artisan, the passage from the great sculpture to popular art, is the industry of terra-cotta figurines which were manufactured by thousands at Tanagra, among those Boeotian peoples whom the Athenians so greatly despised. The industry is not new. It had existed since Archaic times. But in the fourth century, influenced by the diffusion of taste, it was to perfect and extend itself. Like a little timid reflection it follows the evolution of the great focus. Archaic, when the latter is so, it becomes powerful and luminous with the focus; in the Praxitelean period the figurine is frankly intimate. But before Praxiteles, the reflection is totally lost in the blaze of the focus. From Praxiteles onward, when the focus is growing pale, the little reflection, on the contrary, becomes a shining point of light in the gathering shadow. The great sculpture which was made to decorate the temples and to live in space fails when it attempts to turn to too intimate things. The figurine, made to decorate private dwellings and to follow its owner to the tomb in order to win the gods over to him, is essentially intimate in inspiration and in destination. It was quite natural that it should attain its apogee in the century that brought the gods back among men. There are not many gods among the Boeotian sepulchers. There are men, and. above all, women and children, and even animals, toys, and obscene figures.

It has been said that Greek art lacked character. To assert this is to know it inadequately, and perhaps only by the calumnies which the academies, the Roman copies, and the retrospective novels have spread about it. What is character? It is the placing in evidence not of the picturesque, but of the descriptive elements of a given form. The art of the fifth century, which has been said not to have character, goes beyond individual character. It expresses the entire species, it describes it by insisting upon the dominant character of every individual. But the intimate art of Greece does not aim so high. With its charming wisdom it follows individual character. People have forgotten the Greek portraits—so rare, it is true, but so penetrating—they have forgotten the Tanagras, the Myrinas, the vase paintings, the whole of Pompeiian painting, and those statuettes, those studies which perpetuate the cruel satire on the life of the sick, the hunchbacked, the lame, and the infirm of all kinds. They forget that there are even caricatures in the sepulchers of Tanagra. The popularity which the comedies of Aristophanes enjoyed is explained when we know their spectators. There was plenty of laughter in Greece, the philosophers laughed at the gods, the people laughed at the philosophers. The coroplasts (figure makers) of Tanagra and the potters of Ceramica were wholly joyous.

Did they imitate the great contemporary statues as often as has been said? It is improbable. There were occasional reminiscences, at the most. Imitation, close or loose, is death. Now these things live. All the qualities of Praxitelean sculpture are in them. and more acutely. They are modern. They will always be modern. It is because they are eternal. To make a living piece is to make something of eternity, to surprise the laws of life in their permanent dynamism. Walking, dances, and games; the toilet, repose, gossip, attention, revery, immobility; the fine shadings of life, its impressions, and its memories—pass into these charming things, or flee, or hesitate, or halt. They are a living crowd of unseizable moments, these candid little creatures, with their red hair and their tinted dresses. They are the flowers that Greece gathers for a crown as she looks at herself in the water, runs under the willows, stands on tiptoe to reach the lips of the gods, and lives an animal life so ingenuous that her singers and her sculptors could not help deifying it and succeeding—as they followed its direction, without revolt and without a too laborious effort—in illumining its spirit.

These gracious creatures did not know their power of fascination. Greece loved and let herself be loved in an admirable innocence. If the grandiose sensualism of the Orient created the musical drama and inundated the sculptor of Olympia with its sacred frenzy, it did no more than graze the masses of the people and the artist-workmen who interpreted their needs. It is this that always separated Dorian and even Attic art, at least, in their average manifestations, from the art of the Greeks of the Orient. The women of Myrina, the Tanagra of Asia Minor, knew their power of love. The true soul of Asiatic Greece, ardent to the point of voluptuousness, the soul whose flame streams into the Hellenic intelligence, is in the art of Myrina, far more than in the decorative sculpture of the time. The richness of language is less disturbing in it than in the hands of the artist of Pergamos, for this little art—colorful, ardent, and impulsive—is made to be seen close by. There is not the least emphasis in this art; it is rich, almost brutal, a thing made to communicate the ardor of these beautiful, alluring women with their plump backs, their round arms, their heavy hair, their trailing dresses. They paint their questionable faces and adorn themselves and load themselves with jewels. One thinks of Hindoo sculpture which is soon to be stirring in the shadow of the caverns, of the idols of Byzantium with the gems glittering around them; one thinks of the splendid death, in the purple of Venice, of Oriental paganism. The conquest of the Occident by the woman of Asia is on the point of completion.

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