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Art sense – a place on the Sinusoid of ideals

S. Volozhin.

Raphael. Sistine Madonna.

Artistic sense.

The clash of two worlds, our own and the other, in one image provides catharsis (according to Vygotsky). This catharsis could be interpreted as the harmony of earth and heaven.


Well, everybody has to agree that the secret of artistry has been discovered.

Let me start with a subjective sentiment ...

I feel pity for Vygotsky.

"In my opinion, fallacy of the Vygotsky’s assertion concerning the mandatory conflict of form and content of any work, comes from the art chosen by himself - literature.

Applied to literature, his conclusions in many respects are reliable, but if to consider, for example, paintings, we can see that the form and content are in the perfect harmony, rather than in an antagonism:

Let us find a conflict, antagonism in the painting "Sistine Madonna" by Raphael:























It is obviously false that Vygotsky makes the accent just on one of an infinite variety of relationships between form and content - on the conflicts and contradictions. There are numerous examples of pictorial, musical, and literary artworks based on harmony of form and content, along with the reinforcement of it by the form of ideas. Of course, the conflict, the contradiction between form and content is a very strong and effective connection with the artwork, but it is not the only one connection” (

I'll try to find the conflict, in order to confirm accuracy of Vygotsky.

Let us start step by step.

Madonna comes down from the sky, from the blue sky. She is not coming to the earth literally, but she is coming down from the blue sky. And that is a breakthrough, because in the middle Ages “the golden color of the background on the icon… was the representative color of the heaven at that time” (Lotman. Literary structure from the text. Moscow, 1970, p. 21).

This icon was presented to the Budslav church by Rome in 1613.

St. John the Evangelist

Saint circles (Icon from the Switzerland).

But, when observing closely the blue sky of Raphael, which is the usual one for us today, we will see that this sky is being full of unborn souls’ faces! That is a contradiction. The clash of two worlds, our own and the other, in one image provides catharsis (according to Vygotsky). This catharsis could be interpreted as the harmony of earth and heaven.

We find the same situation with the appearance of Madonna. On the one hand Madonna is a barefoot countrywoman being frightened by the attention to her. She grasps a frightened toddler. She holds him so firmly that even the right shoulder of the baby has risen. The toddler holds his mother tightly with his right hand; in order for nobody to be able take him away from her. So, this countrywoman is timidly approaching to us, sinful and dangerous (it looks like she knew about the crucifixion!). But in the picture she is being frightened not because of a supersensible foresight, but because as any other weak woman she knows that life is tough.

On the other hand, Madonna is sailing in with speed that is being far higher than her steps could provide. Because of this small detail you can find a contradiction between materials in the work. The curtain is turned to us because of the wind stream, with which Madonna is sailing in. Also, the pontifically begins to swell like sails, as well as the skirt’s hem and the mantlet of St. Barbara fly off. Additionally, there is another force that brings Madonna through the air resistance. That is why the Madonna’s brown mantlet and blue cloak are blowing.

So, again a contradiction: routine and ... miracle, peasant and ... the majestic Virgin.

And from this collision - the ideal is not to raise the value of human to divine category (which would be pride or blasphemy), but the harmony of physical and spiritual.

There is the same situation with the perspective. By the time of Raphael the laws of the perspective have been already stated and according to them there should be only one vanishing point in the picture. But Rafael did three of them: one for the angels at the bottom, another for Pope Sixtus II and St. Barbara in the middle and the third one for Madonna. There are three horizons for the viewer's eyes. The viewer flies up and his soul soars.

But at the same time, at each level the bodies are depicted as they can only be seen by the viewer who is standing on the floor in front of the picture, so the one who is not tearing the legs off the floor, to be at every level.

And also, the eyes, which being accustomed to read from the left to the right, slide from the bottom, having special attention on the angels, then up on the figure of Pope, and then to the face of Madonna on her swollen and arched mantlet, down to Varvara (she is looking down at the right angel which is being even lower than the left one). And from there, eyes go to the upper angel then up again and so again in circle - the most perfect geometrical figure. And you want to fall into a trance, but you do not.

Harmony is experienced by you again, but because of conflicting emotions.

From where, comes the misconception that there are no conflict between elements and no emotional ambivalence? It happens because the last feeling is a catharsis. People who cannot analyze it (and such people are the majority) do not pay attention to the facts that it generates the desired results. For example, looking at a swimmer crossing a river, if you focus on him, you will notice an eddy from the stroke, a trace of the hands which a second ago were taken out of the water – It is possible to notice all these, by distinguishing stream of the river from the line of swimmer’s motions. Yes, it is difficult, but possible. Usually we just observe the swimmer crossing the river skew toward the shore because he wants to cross it in this way… Or, let us consider another example. A little girl just have learned how to ride a bicycle, disperses, and by reaching the intersection, turned sharply the steering wheel so as turning to 90 degrees, so it means in the same way as we do when walking. So, she felt down and has started crying, not understanding to whom to be offended, and could not realize what her father was explaining her concerning the force of inertia.

In our case, to see the conflict, we need, for instance, get into the psychology of people who lived in 1516 (the last year of the work under this masterpiece). Those were religious people who had at home icons with absolutely different figures and faces of the Virgin Mary to the Raphael ones. Those were people who knew that current Pope Julius II had a vision of the Virgin and a Child, as once saw Sixtus II and Barbara. On the other hand, they were Italians, who saw in their streets of Piacenza, the same family, same type of people; beautiful, slender, sprung ribs, and plump, with sloppy or neat, hairstyle , and hunched old men with tonsure (shaved at the crown of his head, a sign of the Catholic clergy), habitually dressed, and habitually naked babies. These medieval Italians probably were shocked by such a discrepancy usual and unusual. And now an atheist or any person who is wearing a cross on his chest just for a form cannot notice any contradiction, not even speaking about three horizons... and consciously be aware of the vanishing point in one...

There is one more thing to tell. Art historians avoid using reception of Vygotsky and describing the work as controversial. Everybody remembers from the school time, that the High Renaissance is all about the expression of the harmony in the artwork and there is no unanimity on a single word that expresses the ideal of the whole time. Scientists argue with the previous statement, even though they are - the so-called scholars of modern and contemporary art. Science for them is something that deals with existing objects and materials. The catharsis is obviously not given in the works. It happens in the soul of the art admirers, and it cannot be cited. There is no material expression of the reason why it was created in the work of art. And for scientists it means that it is not an object of science. I know a candidate of philology, who honestly told me that he does not know what the artistic sense is. I believe, following Vygotsky, that the artistic sense is the result of the aftereffect of art. Aftereffect of art is to transfer catharsis from the subconscious to the mind that uses words. So I am able to say that the essential part of art work is a not-cited result of contradiction, but a scientist cannot. He would be disqualified and then how would he earn money for living? And moreover, the scientist can lose not only money, but also his name. So that is why they write only about the existing materials and subjects in the work and they don’t make stress or even don’t mention the contradiction of elements. If they mention catharsis, they never admit that this is a result of the controversy. We read these works and get used to that if even the controversy exists, there is no any essence or value from the point of view of evaluating the artistry. Vygotsky by himself is not able to convince other scientists and not able to enlighten us. That is why we live in the shadows.

December 23, 2010

Netanya. Israel.

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