Universal Brotherhood – August 1899

RICHARD WAGNER'S PROSE WORKS: V (1) — Basil Crump

VOL. I. THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE.

The third chapter of this essay deals with "Man's Shaping Art from Nature's Stuffs" opening with a consideration of

THE ARCHITECTURAL ART

No doubt it is due to lack of research that Wagner shows a superficial view of the Egyptian and Asiatic artwork and religions. In connection with Greece he recognizes true architecture as having arisen from the artistic need of Temples and Tragic Theatres, but he overlooks the magnificent evidences of architectural art in the mighty ruins of India, Egypt and America, the most ancient and the most stupendous of all. It may have been that he was so carried away by the Greek civilization that, if he had lived before in the time of Egypt's glory he had surely forgotten all about it. This art was the secret of the true Freemasons who combined the "operative" with the "speculative" work, who lived and worked for their art and who kept alive in their lodges those eternal principles which are the basis of all true religion and art. Their active work was suppressed when creeds and dogmas gained the upper hand, so that the "speculative" alone remained, but Katherine A. Tingley declares that the "Word" or secret of the creative power in their art was protected. Hence, all modern architecture lacks the creative touch, and Wagner truly says:

"Let the modern art of building bring forth the gracefullest and most imposing edifice she can, she still can never keep from sight her shameful want of independence; for our public, as our private needs are of such a kind that, in order to supply them, architecture can never produce, but forever merely copy, merely piece together. Only a real need makes man inventive. (2) Whilst the real need of our present era asserts itself in the language of the rankest utilitarianism, therefore, it can only get its answer from mechanical contrivances, and not from art's creations."

THE ART OF SCULPTURE

"The religions, need for objectification of invisible, adored or dreaded godlike powers, was answered by the oldest sculptural art through the shaping of natural substances to imitate the human form." This was preceded by the picturing of nature-forces in the lower forms of life. It reached high-water mark in Grecian sculpture, which stands unrivaled among the known products of this or any age. Compared with it the more ancient sculptors are cyclopean but more crude, the modern are inspired by them, but never quite reach their level.

Wagner again shows here that the conditions of a new art depend upon the expansion of the principle of Brotherhood from a national to a universal power. This is what Katherine A. Tingley is now accomplishing in all the departments of the Universal Brotherhood organization. "From here on," says Wagner, "from the shattering of the Greek religion, from the wreck of the Grecian Nature-State, and its resolution into the Political State, — from the splintering of the common Tragic Artwork, — the manhood of world-history begins with measured tread its new gigantic march of evolution, from the fallen natural kinsmanship of national community to the Universal Brotherhood of all mankind. The band which the full-fledged Man, coming to consciousness in the national Hellenian, disrupted as a cramping fetter — with this awakened consciousness — must now expand into a universal girdle embracing all mankind. The period from that point of time down to our own day is, therefore, the history of absolute Egoism; and the end of this period will be its redemption into Communism." Wagner explains that he uses the word "Communism" in its true sense of Brotherhood or the antithesis of Egoism, although he says "it is a political crime to use this word."

In concluding this section with the suggestion that Sculpture will be no longer needed. "When actual life shall itself be fair of body," another striking hint of Reincarnation is given: "When we recall the memory of the beloved dead in ever newborn, soul-filled flesh and blood, and no more in lifeless brass or marble; when we take the stones to build the living Artwork's shrine, and require them no longer for our imaging of living Man. — then first will the true Plastique be at our hand.

THE PAINTER'S ART

A very interesting development is here traced in the relation of painting to man's comprehension of Nature. Wagner regards the growth of landscape-painting as leading back to "an inner comprehension and reproduction of Nature" which began in architecture with the God's-Grove and the God's-Temple. The events succeeding that error of the Greeks are thus commented upon, the discovery of America and its important bearing upon the growth of Brotherhood being again referred to:

"Philosophy might put forth its honestest endeavor to grasp the harmony of Nature; it only showed how impotent is the might of abstract intellect. (3) It only needed the Grecian view of Nature's government by self-willed, human-borrowed motives to be wedded to the Judao-Oriental theory of her subservience to human Usefor the disputations and decrees of Councils anent the essence of the Trinity, and the interminable strifes, nay, national wars therefrom arising, to face astounded history with the irrefutable fruits of this inter-marriage.

"Towards the close of the Middle Ages, the Roman Church raised its assumption of the immobility of the earth to the rank of an article of belief: but it could not prevent America from being discovered, the conformation of the globe mapped out, and Nature's self at last laid so far bare to knowledge that the inner harmony of all her manifold phenomena has now been proved to demonstration."

Columbus was indeed inspired, as Katherine A. Tingley has long since told us, when he undertook his daring enterprise. Great must have been that soul who, placing her love for humanity beyond her kingdom and her jewels dared to aid him in spite of the religious fetters which surrounded her exalted position — Isabella, Queen of Spain.

In the dramatic artwork the function of landscape painting will be to "picture forth the warm background of Nature for living, no longer counterfeited Man."

OUTLINES OF THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE

In tracing these outlines Wagner first of all lays down the broad principle that, "The true endeavor of Art is all-embracing: each unit who is inspired with a true art-instinct develops to the highest his own particular faculties, not for the glory of these special faculties, but for the glory of general Manhood in Art.

"The highest conjoint work of art is the Drama. * * * The true Drama is only conceivable as proceeding from a common urgence of every art towards the most direct appeal to a common public."

Proceeding to the functions of each Art in the Drama, he says:

"Architecture can set before herself no higher task than to frame for a fellowship of artists, who, in their own persons, portray the life of Man, the special surroundings for the display of the Human Artwork."

Through the Landscape Painter "the scene takes on complete artistic truth; his drawing, his color, his glowing breadths of light, compel Dame Nature to serve the highest claims of Art."

"On to the stage, prepared by architect and painter, now steps Artistic Man, as Natural Man steps on the stage of Nature. But he is not limited and hampered by the cothurnus and immobile mask of Greek Tragedy. From these he has been treed by the Sculptor and the Painter who limned his free and beauteous form. In him the trinity of sister arts find full expression; he is "dancer, tone-artist and poet."

His inspiration, indeed the soul of the entire artwork is the orchestra which gives him "a stanchless, elemental Spring, at once artistic, natural and human.

"Thus," says Wagner, "the Orchestra is like the birth from which Antaeus, so soon as ever his foot had grazed it, drew new immortal life-force. By its essence diametrically opposed to the scenic landscape which surrounds the actor, and therefore, as to locality, most rightly placed in the deepened foreground outside the scenic frame (4), it at like time forms the perfect complement of these surroundings, inasmuch as it broadens out the exhaustless physical element of Nature to the equally exhaustless emotional element of artistic Man."

The Drama, in which music and her sister arts take their proper place, absorbs the three varieties which have arisen since the fall of Tragedy. These three varieties are the opera, the spoken play and the pantomime in its proper sense as an action or gesture-play. In this drama Music, as Wagner says in a footnote, exercises "her peculiar faculty of, without entirely keeping silence, so imperceptibly linking herself to the thought-full element of Speech that she lets the latter seem to walk abroad alone, the while she still supports it."

And what a noble part is that of the Performer! "In Drama he broadens out his own particular being, by the portrayal of an individual personality not his own, to a universally human being. * * * The perfectly artistic Performer is, therefore, the unit Man expanded to the essence of the Human Species by the utmost evolution of his own particular nature."

THE ARTIST OF THE FUTURE

The Tone-Poet and Performer arise by a natural process from a Fellowship of Artists, united for a definite aim — the Drama. We here find much light thrown on the laws of true leadership and the nature and work of those heroic souls whose types form such inspiring subjects for the drama. It should be remembered in reading what follows that Wagner had just prepared his sketch Jesus of Nazareth. Later he abandoned both it and another sketch called The Conquerors, of which Buddha was the hero, blending both historical characters in the mythical figure of Parsifal, who does not die but triumphs over death and sin. The present passage applies more particularly to the character of Siegfried in the King:

"Only that action is completely truthful — and can thoroughly convince us of its plain necessity — on whose fulfilment a man had set the whole strength of his being, and which was to him so imperative a necessity that he needs must pass over into it with the whole force of his character. But hereof he conclusively persuades us by this alone, that, in the effectuation of his personal force, he literally went under, he veritably threw overboard his personal existence, for sake of bringing to the outer world the inner Necessity which ruled his being. * * * The last, completest renunciation of his personal egoism, the demonstration of his full ascension into universalism, a man can only show us by his Death.(5) The celebration of such a Death is the noblest thing that men can enter on. It reveals to us in the nature of this one man, laid bare by death, the whole content of universal human nature * * * by the artistic re-animation of the lost one, by life-glad reproduction and portrayal of his actions and his death, in the dramatic artwork, shall we celebrate that festival which lifts us living to the highest bliss of love for the departed, and turns his nature to our own."

Wagner goes on to explain that the Love present in the whole Brotherhood of Artists will express itself most strongly in the one who is in closest affinity with the character to be portrayed. He will step forward as the Performer, "who, in his enthusiasm for this one particular hero whose nature harmonizes with his own, now raises himself to the rank of Poet, of artistic Law-giver to the fellowship.

FOOTNOTES:

1. Translated by W. Ashton Ellis. London: Kegan Paul. (return to text)

2. Cf. Emerson. — "Art is the need to create." (return to text)

3. Have we not seen examples of the truth of this statement among those who are students of the Divine Wisdom and other religious beliefs? (return to text)

4. In his playhouse at Bayreuth, Wagner conceals the orchestra in a hooded well or space below the footlights. He called it "the mystic gulf, because it parts reality from ideality." (return to text)

5. Theosophists will at once recognize the application of this passage to the life and work of H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge. (return to text)


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