The world is changing at an astonishing pace. Some of the changes are quite profound and dramatic. Many things that make up our daily life are shifting and repositioning themselves within a new frame created by the altered needs and aspirations. Once again, a new Time-Spirit is coming into being.

Being at the very core of this change – of any remarkable change – the Artist is bound to follow and to reflect the new developments in his work. Intellectually (rationally) or intuitively (emotionally), directly or indirectly, he responds to the impact the change makes on the people, the society and the environment. The old construction is falling apart making space for new ideas that seek embodiment. In this seemingly perpetual process many old insights and solutions to the ever present dilemmas of existence, worn-out by Time and overuse, are dismantled and rejected. Many things that appear to have a universal character, or embody the timeless values – things that if properly adapted and updated could possibly be of great benefit to the new construction – are also discarded just for the sake of not being new.

Urged by his creative instincts, the Artist might simply state the facts, or reflect upon the current issues in an attempt to find a new point of view, a new approach, a new vision. He even might try to communicate a deeper message by placing the everchanging transient World against the permanent and incomprehensible background of the Infinite. For a true artist – the one who is utterly and uncompromisingly dedicated to his vocation – is a frontier man, a pathfinder, a visionary and a true seeker. By the very nature of his vocation, he is destined to venture into the unknown territories, to roam through the pathless lands, to give form to the formless and eventually “point out his finger to the Moon”.

Now, what if that same new construction, that “progressive” new order of things, for some reason becomes regressive and restrictive, eventually depriving the Artist of his basic need and his most precious possession – his freedom – freedom to express himself, to speak out, to create as his consciousness urges him to do? And, what if this new world has lost the connection with the transcendental, with its spiritual foundation, with its Myth, and as a consequence has replaced a bigger picture with a smaller one, a narrower one, putting in its center mainly economic and commercial needs and aspirations, in other words its obsession with the material and the external? How should an artist, true to his vocation, act in such situation?

Nicholas Roerich, Star of the Hero

Romanticism –  and the need for Neo-Romanticism

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement  in Western civilization, originated in Europe in the late 18th and lasted to the mid-19th century. The ideas of Romanticism made a significant impact, with far-reaching consequences, on the way how men perceived himself, the World and his place in it.

Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution (nowadays, this could be compared with digitalization and robotization), the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment (political correctness, materialism and the negative sides of globalization), and the scientific rationalization of nature (loss of the collective myth).

Romanticism’s essential spirit was one of revolt against an established order of things-against precise rules, laws, dogmas, and formulas that characterized Classicism in general and late18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It praised imagination over reason, emotions over logic, and intuition over science-making way for a vast body of literature of great sensibility and passion. In their choice of heroes, also, the romantic writers replaced the static universal types of classical 18th-century literature with more complex, idiosyncratic characters. They became preoccupied with the Genius, the Hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles and there was an emphasis on the examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities.

Nicholas Roerich, Empathy

Defining the nature of Romanticism may be approached from the starting point of the primary importance of the free expression of the feelings of the artist. The importance the Romantics placed on emotion is summed up in the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that “the artist’s feeling is his law”. To William Wordsworth, poetry should begin as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” which the poet then “recollect[s] in tranquility,” evoking a new but corresponding emotion the poet can then mold into art.

According to Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.”

In the realm of ethics, politics, aesthetics it was the authenticity and sincerity of the pursuit of inner goals that mattered… This is most evident in the aesthetics of romanticism, where the notion of eternal models, a Platonic vision of ideal beauty, which the artist seeks to convey, however imperfectly, on canvas or in sound, is replaced by a passionate belief in spiritual freedom, individual creativity. The painter, the poet, the composer do not hold up a mirror to nature, however ideal, but invent; they do not imitate (the doctrine of mimesis), but create not merely the means but the goals that they pursue; these goals represent the self-expression of the artist’s own unique, inner vision, to set aside which in response to the demands of some “external” voice – church, state, public opinion, family friends, arbiters of taste – is an act of betrayal of what alone justifies their existence for those who are in any sense creative.

The Romantic association of nature and spirit expressed itself in one of two ways. The landscape was, on one hand regarded as an extension of the human personality, capable of sympathy with man’s emotional state. On other hand, nature was regarded as a vehicle for spirit just as man; the breath of God fills both man and the earth. Delight in unspoiled scenery and in the (presumably) innocent life of rural dwellers was a popular literary theme. Often combined with this feeling for rural life is a generalized romantic melancholy, a sense that change is imminent and that a way of life is being threatened.

Nicholas Roerich, Pearl of Searching

Academism – Regarded here as Traditional Formalism; a tendency toward traditionalism or conventionalism in art; any attitudes or ideas that are learned or scholarly but lacking in worldliness and openness, which makes them stiff and inflexible, often lifeless, and slaves to rules and norms.  After a certain point, Academism of any kind must eventually be replaced by new attitudes and ideas that embody the opposite – free, unrestrained, individual expression.

Propelled by the development of digital media, the Internet and all the rest of it, Art, and the commercial arts in particular, are undoubtedly going through a period of remarkable development and change. However, at the same time – all good things of this dualistic World must have a shadow – it seems that a form of Academism has slowly crept into the field of Fantasy Art over the years, which is a contradiction for these two phenomena are essentially of a different, if not opposing nature. One is, as pointed out above, based on formalism and conventionalism, the other on imagination – by nature unrestricted and bundless – expressed through a hard to define symbolic language originated mainly in the collective unconscious.

In my personal opinion, there are at least three reasons for this situation: 1- easy access to the prefabricated digital tools – the same advanced programs and digital tools are being used by many, hence the increasing sameness and uniformity of the visual expression, followed by a decrease in inventiveness and originality; 2- The pressure imposed on the artist by the client (the market) to produce a specific kind of look, or style, resulting in the lack of artistic freedom and the marginalization of the importance of free expression; 3- too pragmatic way of teaching Art – too much emphasis on the technical aspects of creating Art and the obsession with the naturalistic depiction of forms on one hand, and the lack of attention to the Spiritual and the Contentual aspect of Art on the other.

Nicholas Roerich, Remember

Decadence Often referred to as “moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury means”, or “decadence presupposes a reaching and passing the peak of development and implies a turn downward with a consequent loss in vitality or energy”. That is what we usually mean when we use this term. But if looked at through the prism of psychology, decadence represents a state wherein the means to a goal become the goal itself.

For instance, an important aspect of Visual Art is the relationship between the outer form and the content. The form and the content often appear to be separate and of a different nature, hence the perception that one cannot compensate for the lack of the other. The content needs an outer form to be contained in and to communicate through. When separate and on their own, the form and the content become meaningless. But when put together and related to each other in a balanced way, or desired manner, they create a potent and meaningful whole. Failing to see and acknowledge this principle inevitably leads to the impoverishment of some degree. A full potential can be reached only if the outer form and the content are seen as one, inseparable phenomenon. We find a perfect expression of this in music (sound = form) and in the immediacy of its effect, more often than in visual arts.

Nicholas Roerich, St. Sergius the Builder

These were just a few hints from a subjective point of view presented here in order to point out an issue, or that which the writer of these lines sees as an emerging problem. Of course, there is no one, right way to approach the problem – many roads lead to Rome, as they say. In fact, all is so wonderfully confusing and clear at the same time. Everything is so utterly relative because all depends on the relative truth of the individual perception, which reflects the individual’s current level of awareness.

Here is an example. The following statement is based on one’s experience and reflects a gained insight – The fundamental secret of all great art lies less in what is depicted, or even how it is depicted, but in how deep it is felt. This refers both to the subject matter and the creative process. Basically it depends on the artist’s ability to Love. As far as the subject matter is concerned, one needs to be able to internalize it, to become one with it. That is to say, to connect to it on a level that is beyond mere visual perception. If the subject matter is treated only as a surface appearance, the results will probably be shallow and the depicted object, or scene, might turn dull and lifeless. At its best, it will present a well-polished empty shell.

Here is another one – Only an imperfect man can be a perfect artist. To a fully awakened person Art is redundant, as is the road to a traveler that brought him to his front door.

Nicholas Roerich, And We are Trying

How many of you, right now, would agree, let alone identify with what has been said? Some perhaps, but certainly not too many, and definitely not all. But, that’s perfectly ok. That’s how it should be. At the end, all we can do is exchange imperfect and limited personal insights, opinions, beliefs, etc., while at the same time keeping in mind that one’s own truth may not necessarily be somebody else’s truth. That which has helped a particular person, might perhaps have a negative effect within the frame of somebody else’s story. But, what about those things that “appear to have a universal character, or embody the timeless values” mentioned in the second paragraph, if everything is so relative and personal, one might ask?…Well, the only thing I can say is that Life is basically a paradoxical phenomenon. It is the greatest Wonder and the greatest Mystery. Ultimately, it’s up to the Artist not to try to reveal that which cannot be revealed, but rather to stand in front of it in utter awe…and eventually lose oneself in it.

Nicholas Roerich, The Miracle

Good luck!