• The Beverly Arts

Idealism and Progress from the Renaissance to Modernity: Where is the Love?

Updated: Jul 18

by Richard Wearn, June 11, 2022

Painting by LABA Blue-chip artist Jiannan Huang

Poetry and painting, painting and poetry, poetry in painting, painting in poetry. Unrestrained color and enthusiasm, attitude and soul - J Zhou, May 19, 2022

If we understand the arts in terms of their capacity for bringing pure form to expression, then poetry and painting are usually considered to be the most effective and rarified. The interplay between poetry and painting is well understood and has produced vast amounts of literature and discourse. The closeness to pure cognition that poetry and painting have are a shared and foundational characteristic, and it is within this close relationship that we find the reflection of a cultural energy that is not only shaped by the way a viewer experiences art, but by the way the art work has developed to represent our own thoughts and psychic experiences to each other.

The dialogue between poetry and painting is an ongoing discourse that has continued to be of

huge importance in our times as we manage such huge amounts of digital imagery and text

through social media that operate interdependently.

This short essay offers a very condensed history of how we found the essential and inherent in

painting and poetry, and how these findings are also synonymous with a wider culture program

in the arts that tracked us to a reductionist perspective that has motioned us toward a rational purity that in-advertently opened the field to the possibility of new and diverse forms of thinking and expression. Renaissance idealism set in motion a quest for knowledge and a critical approach to the conditions through which human kind understood the world and the universe in which existence and experience took place. The axioms that had previously underwritten our vision of the world, the understanding of its material constitution, and our schematic for accessing it were reshaped by a curiosity invigorated by the birthing and a re-discovery of the fundamental systems of

critical thought developed in classical times by the Mediterranean civilizations.

Painting by LABA Blue-chip artist Jiannan Huang

The Renaissance provided a new narrative for Western culture, adjusting history and individual

subjectivity. Human kind moved to centerstage equipped with the pre-requisites for the

unlocking the mysteries and structures that lay latent in the material and conceptual elements of

the universe. In a sense it was a set up by God, humans were placed into the continuum of time

and through Philosophy, mathematics and the sciences crack the code on the essential truths of the Universe. This forced a takedown of the conception of the ‘static universe’, replacing it with a transcendent one.

We see this in the comparison of philosophic operations the Medieval: ‘sologistic’, with the

enlightenment invention - the ‘dialectic’. The sologism confirms the existence of what we already know: ‘A’ is not ‘non – A’ because it is A’. The Dialectic is progressive, ‘A’ interacting with ‘non-A’ produces a new entity which is derived from a superseding of ‘A’ through the combing with ‘non-A’ producing a new progressed form derived from this movement forwards, or superseding of both ‘A’ and ‘non-A’. The sologism is static, the dialectic is progressive.

Hegel, the inventor of the dialectic, created a progressive ‘fail-safe’ thought structure that would self generate and serve as an epistemological warrant refining every aspect of our intellectual and knowledge. This moved through twentieth century modernity, becoming an acting out of progress.

This mode of thought rendered essentialization. It reduces away superfluous and irrelevant

epistemological noise, honing down to the absolute facts, exposing the inherent and irreducible structures of any given object, phenomena, medium, process or social scenario.

Painting by LABA Blue-chip artist Jiannan Huang

This transcendent philosophy is labored with comparative and hierarchical systems. Some

objects, ideas, and phenomena under this type of thought are seen to be more essential or

intrinsic to its particular system or field than to others. These types of hierarchies become the

contingencies of classification.

Immediate to the development of the Arts in general was the establishment of a hierarchical

basis of determination of the purest form of true expression, or the most unfettered universal

forms of representations of human cognition. The capacity of each discipline of the arts to draw as close as possible to pure thought, without the superfluous elements that would in fact mask pure thought. This conception of the Arts was worked through from the Renaissance to Modernism. This was dependent upon the construct of pure thought, supported by the most minimal form of mediation possible. This placing Philosophy as no.1 in the hierarchy – pure

thought articulated in language; no. 2, Poetry – pure thought articulated in language, arranged

to create allusion; no. 3 Painting – pure thought articulated in color and form (abstract expressionist painting of the 1950’s and 1960’s championed as the purest form of painting as it

had abandoned allusion completely, and was seemingly the medium of paint operating as paint).

As we contemplate the history of western culture and expression the inter-relationships and commonalities do not appear in an obvious way. The epistemological formations that bind

history together are a substructure beneath the visible events, correlated with a directionality or

purpose. These purposes correlate to cognitive and ideological structures, its own given a


Deeper consideration wrought by the advent of the quantum, the arrival of digital technology,

ecological degradation, and their collective radical implications produces an interesting paradox in these transcendent philosophical conditions, and in Modernity. Reductionist aesthetics have withdrawn the object from all human access, making it accessible only by thought, allusion and allure. As in the classic terms of ‘philosophia’ - a quest for wisdom, as opposed to the wisdom itself - the proposition holds that the ‘real’ cannot be known, it may only be ‘loved.’

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