he admits barbarian art has the potential to invoke more feeling in
today's observers, Sir Kenneth Clark argues that Greek and Roman art
represents a higher form of civilization and culture. To him, the fact
that a work like the Apollo of the Belvedere represents to Hellenistic
ideals of light and human-like gods makes it superior to barbarian works
representing fear and darkness.
Though no one can be entirely certain what brought on the collapse of
the mighty Roman Empire, Clark has a multi-faceted theory. The armies,
he said, became corrupt. Citizenship was given out freely just to recruit
more people and collect more taxes. Cults became stranger, and Christianity
became less accepting. Perhaps more importantly is the continuing advances
of Barbarian tribes. All these things left Romans with a feeling of
uncertainty. They stopped planting crops, and making great art and architecture.
This leaves everyone with a feeling of dread, and worthlessness. Clark
calls the empire "exhausted". Though the barbarians may not
have been entirely destructive people, they certainly did not put any
effort into keeping up old buildings which often turned to ruin. They
prefered to live in less grand structures which required less effort.
This is not to say they built nothing worthwhile or impressive, but
they certainly had a very different set of values. The Greek appreciation
of the beauty of man is once again buried away for centuries.
This time of Barbarism was a time of ruthlessness, resistance, fighting,
torture and political extremes. Though much beautiful art did come out
of this time, our records of what happened at this time basically discusses
a frightening world. Franks, Barbarians, Charlemagne... conflicting
ideals meant that during the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries, these leaders
and the church changed back and forth frequently as leaders.
John Ruskin has a quote which comes from an interesting perspective
on how we look at history. He says,
"Great natons write their autobiographies in three manuscripts:
the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their
art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two
others, but of the three, the only trustworthy one is the last."
What he means by this is that art and architecture are heavily influenced
by events, and culture dictating events can be studied through art.
All of this can be discussed in literature and history from this time.
In this way, all must be studied in order to have a complete view of
the times. However, the last part of his quote deals with what we can
believe. His view is that words and writing can be falsified, exaggerated,
or otherwise skewed. What is done can be lied about, or taken out of
context. But art? Art cannot be without merit. Whatever it is, even
something unrealistic like a perfect Greek sculpture, is representative
of the times and we can learn from it. I would agree with John Ruskin
in his view that art is the one true "picture of civilization".