FROM THE FOUNTAINHEAD TO THE FUTURE, AND OTHER ESSAYS ON ART AND EXCELLENCE — By Alexandra York — Silver Rose Press — 2000 — Trade PB: 176 pages — ISBN: 0-9676444-0-2
The time for philosopher-kings is long gone. But the time for philosopher-artists is now.
In From the Fountainhead to the Future, Alexandra York doesn’t spend much time pointing out the decay which Western culture is currently undergoing (such is altogether too obvious at this late date) but instead suggests a path that she believes could help lead us to a renaissance as comparable in extent and impact as the one society underwent five hundred years ago.
In York’s estimation, the artists and thinkers of that time were wise to reach back to the ancient Greeks for inspiration, but they showed even greater wisdom in not trying to replicate the Greek approach but rather adapting the best of humanistic Hellenic thought and practice to their own spiritual heritage, which was then, as now, principally Judeo-Christian in outlook. (As York abbreviates it: “David, not Apollo.”):
Reason. Health. Humanism. Individualism. Beauty. The predominant values of Western civilization.
When she speaks of art, York doesn’t just mean painting and sculpture but also literature and the myriad ways people have of expressing themselves by representing and reshaping reality; such art projects and reflects our essential inner being—our souls—to the world:
I propose that we incorporate art education into the mandatory school curricula. I propose art instruction because only art educates the whole person as an integrated individual: it educates the senses, it educates the mind, and it educates the emotions. It educates the soul.
Like it or not, art is value-laden, unavoidably so, showing and sometimes challenging the beholder’s values:
As an artist’s soul is revealed by his work so is our own soul revealed via our interaction with it. We cannot deny (nor resist) this reaction, for it is automatic—it is emotional. Because art is a physical manifestation of a mental value system, it initially bypasses conscious convictions and goes straight to our subconscious premises. By the art we love (and hate) shall we know our innermost selves.
In short, art is ineluctable, and there’s no place to hide from it. But not all art is benevolent; sometimes it’s used to erode cultural values, which is what art and artists (including writers and film producers) seem to have been preoccupied with during most of the twentieth century:
Because art acts as a shortcut to ideas (whether they be good or bad), it possesses irresistible puissance as a cultural force (for good or ill) by aesthetically concretizing abstract ideas, letting us see our values, touch them, and hear them in physical form, making them real.
According to York, a new renaissance can best be sparked by
fostering a rebirth of beauty and life-affirming values within the philosophical bedrock of our culture and championing art that manifests those values.
Along the way in From the Fountainhead to the Future, the author takes excursions into the film The English Patient (Chapter V), neatly demolishing its pretensions, and offers a concise course in art appreciation (Chapter VII), presenting ways of approaching artistic works that are achievable for anyone, with or without a college degree.
I. From the Fountainhead to the Future
II. In Search of the Ideal
III. The State of the Culture: Approaching the Year Three Thousand
IV. Romantic Realism: Visions of Values
V. “The English Patient” and Other Romantic Illnesses
VI. The Legacy Lives: Embracing the Year Three Thousand in Philosophy and Art
VII. Art as Interactive Experience
VIII. The Fourth “R” in Education: Reading, WRiting, ARithmetic and ARt
IX. Art as Spiritual Experience
X. Art as Energy for the Twenty-first Century
XI. Sharing the Miracle