The Dehumanization of Art – Ortega Y Gasset’s Pernicious Theory of Art

The Dehumanization of Art – Ortega Y Gasset’s Pernicious Theory of Art
The Dehumanization of Art – Ortega Y Gasset’s Pernicious Theory of Art

As a result of I’ve admired the Spanish thinker and artwork critic Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883 – 1955) for a few years, I’ve been reluctant to evaluate any of his books. His writing model gives a peculiar angle of imaginative and prescient about tradition, philosophy, and artwork. Consequently for years I have been a shopper, all the time taking from his work and by no means giving something again.

However now it is time to give one thing again. So, listed here are some very private likes and dislikes.

Ortega’s title of the e-book -The Dehumanization of Art- is now a relentless in music, literature, aesthetics, and philosophy, having come to imply that in put up-trendy instances human-formed mimesis (illustration of the human) is irrelevant to artwork.

In accordance with Ortega, the humanities do not have to inform a human story; artwork ought to be involved with its personal types-and never with the human type. The essay, divided into 13 subsections, was initially revealed in 1925; in these transient sections Ortega mentioned the novelty of nonrepresentational artwork and sought to make it extra comprehensible to a public a lot benumbed with the normal types of artwork.

A seek for the substance of conventional artwork

Within the first part entitled, “Unpopularity of the New Art,” Ortega attracts from his political credo which one can say it’s elitist, aristocratic, and anti-widespread. His evaluation concludes with the idea that some individuals are higher than others; that some are superior to others: “Behind all modern life lurks the frightening and profound injustice of the belief that males are literally created equal.”

That unbending political level of view colours his aestheticism.

The plenty, he holds, won’t ever perceive the “new artwork” that was rising with Debussy and Stravinsky (music), Pirandello (theater), and Mallarme (poetry). A scarcity of understanding will mobilize the plenty -a time period that Ortega makes use of steadily to confer with the widespread people- to dislike and reject the brand new artwork. Subsequently, the brand new artwork would be the artwork for the illustrious, the educated, and the few.

To deliver that sort of divisive software -the few versus the numerous, aristocrats versus democrats- into the humanities appears not solely slim minded, but additionally disingenuous. But my principal objection to Ortega’s evaluation and conclusions is extra basic. In my estimation, ‘understanding’ within the arts is of secondary significance. The arts are created by people to achieve out and contact different people by means of appeals to their passions and feelings-by means of their senses.

After I was 14 years previous, accidentally, I heard a musical composition that was so completely different and unusual to my younger ears that prompted me to name the radio station to seek out out about that piece. It was Appalachian Spring, a ballet composition by Aaron Copland. What 14-yr previous boy from the Andes (Peru) may be accustomed to ballet or Aaron Copland to even start to know the composition? But, I preferred it. And that’s all that mattered to me.

Understanding that piece of music, and even figuring out the identify of the composer, was as far-off from my thoughts as was Einstein’s principle of relativity, since I had no concept who Einstein was both. Delight, enjoyment, and rapture one feels with out expressed understanding.

By extolling the brand new types and selling the vanguard artists and their efforts to supply non-conventional artwork, Ortega’s e-book had a big affect within the rejection of realism and romanticism. So seductive and convincing was Ortega’s prose that many artists and critics started to equate each realism and romanticism with vulgarity.

To permit an excellent author to exert a lot authority ought to be a sin. For years Ortega’s authority has bothered me. But, regardless of that internal annoyance, my respect for the person’s writings inhibited me from protesting. So, by stripping Ortega’s dazzling prose of its seduction -by “bracketing” and performing a phenomenologist reduction- we are able to see it in its personal nakedness for what it’s: an elitist and dangerous level of view.

Individuals ought to by no means be made ashamed of their style, likes, and dislikes in artwork. We must always take pleasure in that contact of aesthetic delight whether or not it comes from primitive, Greek, Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque, realism, or romanticism, surrealism, or any interval or motion.

Ortega advocates the ‘goal purity’ of noticed actuality

Following Plato’s division of actuality into the types (universals) and their simulacra, Ortega invents his personal corresponding phrases: ‘noticed actuality’ and ‘lived actuality.’

The illustration of actual issues (lived actuality) – man, home, mountain- Ortega calls “aesthetic frauds.” Ortega completely dislikes objects be they man-made or pure: “An excellent deal of what I’ve known as dehumanization and disgust for dwelling types is impressed by simply such an aversion towards the normal interpretation of realities.”

In distinction, the illustration of concepts (noticed actuality) is what he views because the true artwork. Subsequently, he praises the brand new artwork because the destroyer of semblance, resemblance, likeness, or mimesis. In that destruction of the previous human types of artwork lies Ortega’s “dehumanization.”

But one should recall that extra that greater than 2500 years in the past, the pre-Socratic thinker Protagoras mentioned, “Man is the measure of all issues: of issues that are, that they’re, and of issues which aren’t, that they aren’t.” Ortega’s will to “dehumanize” artwork will all the time run head on towards Protagoras’ wall. Art by definition – something that’s man-made- is profoundly human and can’t be in any other case, Ortega however.

Even within the stark canvases of painters reminiscent of Mark Rothko one feels the artist’s humanity in search of the human soul by means of coloration and luminosity. Even within the random drippings of Jackson Pollock’s works one can sense man’s wrestle for freedom. And what’s freedom however a human aspiration?


Each time I take a look at the shapes of primitive African artwork, the Paleolithic pictures of animals within the caves of Lascaux, and even the colourful and balanced grids of Mondrian-I am in awe of the human spirit. And at such instances I really feel that labels, indicators, markings, and explanations and descriptions (theories) are completely pointless.

What we want are theories of artwork that may unite folks relatively than divide them. Ortega’s “dehumanization” is a poisonous principle not as a result of it advocates a detestable elitism, however as a result of it makes an attempt to disclaim the pleasures of artwork to the widespread folks.