Learning to listen to yourself in the silence of nature

Apr 5, 2022 9:45AM

Breezy is curating an exhibition that will be held in Rome, at the Ex Cartiera on the prestigious Via Appia Antica, on April 22nd - 30th, to investigate the complex relationship between human beings and technology through the eyes of our time. To introduce the event and all the artists who will take part in it, we would share with you the process of research and study behind the creation of a curatorial concept titled: I(m)perfection: the laws of technology that dominate order and chaos. We will do this with short essays that will look at technology in its relationship with the concept of beauty, in its evolution through the centuries. We will talk about art and philosophy, order and chaos, mathematical weighting and improvisation. The question with which we want to introduce you to the reading is: Where does the purest and most authentic concept of beauty reside? In the proportion and balance of forms or, rather, in the undisciplined chaos?


Saying that something is beautiful is a judgment; the thing is not beautiful in itself, but in the judgment that defines it as such.

- Giulio Carlo Argan, L'arte moderna 1770/1970

Until now we have tried to pursue order, to search for harmony and beauty, to anchor what we know to some law of men... Today we take all this and try to look beyond.

Beyond the schemes are hidden, perhaps, the most sincere and purest essence of beauty, as well as our true essence. The impulse of the human being has always been directed towards the achievement of new goals, self-knowledge, tangible reality or not, but there are phenomena that escape our control and predetermination. Can this sense of powerlessness affect our common sense of balance and harmony? This question has moved the minds of writers, philosophers and artists of a particular era, the one between the mid-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The vehicle of this mental revolution is the Enlightenment, which suggests an idea of perfection that passes through a new key to understanding nature, no longer immutable form and always equal to itself, which can only be copied. Modern man is not subject to the laws of nature, but can choose to impose his own imprint and transform it, with an unlimited range of possibilities. On the basis of the different attitude of the human being before nature and his propensity to embrace his own active role, Kant bases his critique of judgment, distinguishing a "picturesque beauty" and a "sublime beauty". Two thoughts that arise in the wake of Romanticism, drawing from it the feeling, the internalization of emotions and returning a subjective and personal vision, radiant or tormented that is of reality. The phenomenon, of course, is not accidental: with the advent of industrial technology, craftsmanship goes into crisis and the artist has the need to reinvent himself. Excluded from the industrial system, artists became independent bourgeois intellectuals and profoundly different currents of thought flourished.

The spirit of the picturesque is fully expressed in the landscape painting of the eighteenth century, as an expressive form of the intimate feeling of the artist who escapes the rigid laws of perspective and design. What the artist seeks is variety, the unpredictable: there is no universal concept of beauty, what is pursued is to translate the tangible sensation into feeling.

Nature, in its infinite manifestations, is a difficult concept to embrace with the mind. This suggests in another part of the world of art and literature a feeling of powerlessness. Man is an invisible point in the universe: in front of stormy seas and icy moors, we can only feel tiny, at the mercy of phenomena that we cannot deceive ourselves into controlling.

The positions of the picturesque and the sublime are translated into two different types of gardens, drawing the attention of art historians to a theme that has hardly aroused the same interest in other eras. In the first half of the eighteenth century was born the so-called "English garden" which, looking at the oriental model, is presented as an apparently uncultivated and spontaneous garden. On the contrary, the Italian garden is characterized by an orderly organization of space and vegetation, with flower beds and hedges designed to convey the view towards a perspective reading and a privileged point of observation that amplifies the space or provides spectacular water features (famous are the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, near Rome and the Boboli Gardens in Florence).

Such contrasting conceptual visions could only result in equally different expressive languages. So, if the picturesque is expressed through warm and bright tones, with vibrant touches that emphasize the particular, the dissonant detail in a quiet rural village, the sublime suggests a catastrophic vision of the future, with dark colors, pale, hard drawing and bodies that struggle but remain imprisoned in geometric patterns from which it is impossible to escape.

Caspar David Friedrich, Wayfarer on the Sea of Fog, 1818, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

As in Friedrich's painting, a manifesto of the sublime, we are there, standing on a rock, helplessly observing the spectacle at our feet. A view that is certainly fascinating, extending as far as the eye can see, but which leaves open the doubt of what lies beyond, what escapes comprehension? Thoughts and feelings that the traveler faces in his own interiority. He, who has set out on this journey to contemplate the terrible spectacle of nature, reflects on the choices he has made, the opportunities lost, the expectations and fears that are to come.

J.M.William Turner, Blizzard: Hannibal and his army cross the Alps, 1812

Among the greatest interpreters of the spirit of the sublime, Turner is known as the painter of light.

That light which has no boundaries, and which, according to Goethe's theory, is a light which "shapes reality", which frees it from rules. It is not by chance that Turner dedicated what we can consider as the manifesto of his painting to the German writer (Light and Color - Goethe's Theory, 1843). If we did not read the title of the work, it would be difficult to trace the theme represented. The historical episode, in fact, is only the expedient to be able to project tension and pain in the sky, full of a snowstorm.

Next to the impetuous flow of nature and the impotence of the human being, there is the flourishing of memories of happy moments spent in the authentic life of the countryside. An emotional bond is created with nature, which is welcoming, delighting heart and spirit.

In John Constable's painting, The Hay Wagon, a common scene of bucolic life in the Sufflok countryside is immortalized: a hay wagon stops next to a stream in which a modest house is mirrored, flanked by shady trees. In the background, vast cultivated fields are touched by the light that breaks through the clouds. Everything is calm and on a human scale.

Unlike Turner's skies, Constable's are serene and convey positive, personal emotions and nothing more. If in Turner, in fact, it is not uncommon to find representations of mythological, biblical or historical scenes, whose emotions are reflected in the atmospheric phenomena, in Constable nature does not allude to anything more than itself.

Under his skies, Constable depicts only what he has known and frequented: the Suffolk region, the hills of Hampstead and the surroundings of Salisbury.

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821, National Gallery, London

So that sense of unpredictability and changeability of reality does not necessarily frighten, but also moves. Freed from the rigid arguments of those who have long striven to give an explanation to the most mysterious thing that exists, that is life, opens that chapter of art history that will chase dizzily the affirmation of the author's personality. It is no coincidence that at the end of the eighteenth century artists began to give a personal title to their works that are no longer mere representations of what is or has been, but poetic verses that tell another dimension: that of the human soul.