Ultimate cause of the decline.
This question might fairly be raised. And assuredly a true answer to it is not to be found merely in the political circumstances of the time when Athens had just come under the leadership of Macedon. We must go further back, and look deeper into the conditions under which the best work of Greek art was done. In the Ionian republics, and especially at Athens, while their life was still healthy, letters and the fine arts entered into the education which was received by all citizens alike. Letters and the fine arts were therefore subject to the opinion, not of a class, but of the entire city. The artist, whether sculptor or architect, painter,
The great Greek Art waspopular:
poet or orator, received the impress of the national mind, and reflected it from his own. He worked for all the citizens, and he knew that he would be judged, not by a few critics, but by the whole civic body. The Greek genius, in its purest and brightest form, tended of itself to fix its attention on what is essential and typical in nature, and to suppress those mere accidents of which the prominence is always disturbing and at last grotesque. Here was a further safeguard for the artistic worker who began with this inborn tendency. Mannerism and exaggeration may be made the fashion of a clique, but, where public opinion is really free, they will never be popular. The Greek artist who, in rivalry with brother artists, sought for the approbation of his fellow-citizens gathered in the theatre, or going about their daily work amid gracious forms of marble or
living shapes still more beautiful, in the clear air of Attica and close to the foam and freshness of the sea, knew that no refinements of the study could save him if he was false to nature, and knew, also, that his loyalty to nature would be surely recognised just in proportion as he brought out, not the trivial or transient things, not such things as depend for their interest on an artificial situation, but those lineaments of nature which have the divine simplicity of permanence. It cannot be too often repeated,
but not therefore the less ideal.
it is a thoroughly vulgar misconception, more fatal than anything else to the comprehension of all Greek things, to suppose that the Athenian statesmen or cobblers who went to the theatre of Dionysos in the days of Perikles found the art of Sophocles cold because it was ideal, and would have thought the demonstrative and rhetorical pathos of Euripides more ‘human.’ Their feeling, happily, was very different, or the Parthenon would have been very different too. They felt that the immortal things of humanity are more human than its accidents; and therefore, the poorest of them, they could rise out of the mean or grievous things of daily life into a contemplation which educated the passions that it moved and resolved the anguish of pity or of terror in a musical and chastened joy. The festive disposition of the Greeks is a perpetual snare to modern writers who cannot dissociate the love of dinner-parties from a tone either mildly cynical or at all events the reverse of transcendental, and who hasten to the conclusion that an inquirer exempt from academical sentiment or pedantry will study
the real Greeks in their comedians or their cooks. It was not until the moral unity of the State was broken, and men began to live a life of thought or pleasure apart from the life of the city, that the artists began to work for the few, and that the taste of the many sank below the power of appreciating the highest beauty. Philip, Alexander and their Successors were indeed the apostles of Greek language, Greek art, Greek social civilisation: but between Hellas and Hellenism there was a spiritual
Gulf between Hellas and Hellenism.
separation which no force of the individual mind could do away. Literature and art had been sacred energies and public delights to the citizens of free Athens: to the writers or artists of Antioch or
The artists of Hellenism.
Alexandria they were agreeable industries, inviting reward or awaiting correction from aristocratic patrons, whose artificial canons encouraged either an elaborate vagueness of expression or the pretence of an occult profundity1
. The lapse of literature and art into the depths of affectation is only a matter of time when the judges on whom recognition depends are a capricious and absolute oligarchy. There
Art depends on a judicious and candid public.
is no lasting security for truth in artistic creation except an intelligent public, pronouncing with authority and not intimidated by the prescriptions of a coterie or a caste. In this sense, it may justly be said that nothing is so democratic as taste; nor could there be a better illustration than a
comparison between the Athens of Perikles and the Alexandria of the Ptolemies.