Human action and art

A wonderful passage from Mark Anthony Signorelli over at The University Bookman:
We are too often misled by our study of the history of art, and the unmistakable stories of development it encompasses, to believe that there was something fated or necessary about these developments. We study Giotto’s innovations in modeling the human form, and Massacio’s use of perspective, and trace the development of these techniques through the work of Ucello and della Francesca and Mantegna, and then their apotheosis in the paintings of Leonardo and Raphael. We find the narrative of this period of art so progressive and coherent, so evidently moving in an explicable direction, that we find ourselves almost instinctively assuming there was something fated about this development, that the frescoes of the Stanza della Segnatura were somehow contained, in embryo, in the Holy Trinity at Santa Maria Novella. We are too apt to forget the thousands of conscious, deliberate choices, made by dozens of individuals, which carried these techniques forward. It is a story in which human agency played a central part, continually exercised in the form of practical reasoning, according to which aesthetic ends were achieved through the selection of the stylistic means most appropriate to achieve them. And because this form of rationality played a role in the story, there is room for rational criticism, a criticism that takes as its task the evaluation of those means, those ends, and their proper—or improper—matching.


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