The modern civilisation of our days, with its technological advancements, makes us vain, sometimes even blind.
We tend to view every aspect of the world, as a product of our age. Every new idea must be just that – a new idea! Well… Wrong!
How, you ask?
Well, take a pixel, for example. It is considered to be a phenomenon of the digital era, but it is only a modern interpretation of an ancient, revolutionary idea – a mosaic tile. The small piece of stone, metal, or glass made masterpieces like the Christ Pantocrator from Hagia Sophia, or the Running Rug by Marcelo de Melo possible. There is almost a pattern, artistic, or intellectual, if you will, reappearing the collective mind of human kind, transcending the ages. Copernican heliocentric-ism re-expressed itself centuries later as the Bohr atom model.
Ancient ideas, often taken for granted as modern, are not only with us much longer then we usually think – they have been, in a certain sense, degraded! This claim sounds, at first illogical, but the argument is obvious, even irrefragable. The Monreale Cathedral and its mosaics still stand the test of time, with no or little maintenance, while a digital image, not questioning its artistic value, needs electric energy to exist. Unlike the works of poetry and music, which can be, and have been throughout history, entirely memorized, the visual arts desire tangible forms and materials.
However beautiful and seductive the art of multimedia might be, it cannot substitute the role of applied art and fulfil the human need for the beauty of everyday life and living space. This, aesthetic need is what separates us from other life forms on this planet of ours. The interior defines our personality and vice versa, from the cave art of Altamira and Hisham’s Palace, to the present day. The living space is not only a dwelling space. This is one of the concepts that separated the first civilizations from their barbarian neighbours. The wish to organize a society, a culture, a living space, has an aesthetic side to it – a very natural call for harmony. In his dissociation from his natural surroundings, man shows his inseparability from Mother Nature, herself. A paradox! One of those paradoxes that are the cause for the beauty of existence…
A bond we have with nature is what gives a mosaic tile an advantage over a pixel. The tangible, often natural material, stone, metal, terracotta, even plastic, unlike almost surreal digital images, gives us a feeling, that we are part of something beautiful, fascinating, but still, as real as ourselves.
Art saves us. Art is there to say: “There is more to life, than fulfilling your daily needs.” Art, like religion, like love, gives meaning to human existence. It is one of our basic needs, not less important, than food, water, air, or, shelter – it is a spiritual need. An artist shows just how far human creativity, devotion and skill can go. Our aesthetic drive is holy (I am lacking a better word), by its origin, and by its nature. Human kind, when motivated, easily becomes infested with great, revolutionary ideas that transform us, and our world - thus we are the active component of creation.
We enjoy ourselves more, if we enjoy the ambient. Happiness has always been the goal of our strivings and cravings. It is not the same to take a bath in a tin tub, and to swim in a pool adorned with mosaics of mythological beings…
Every new art technique is a giant leap for mankind – an intrusion into unknown territory; A conquest without blood and casualties. Every artistic undertaking is a brick in the building of human civilization. Imagine how those pioneers must have felt – drunk with inspiration and overwhelmed with the power of the ideas pouring into the reality of physical forms, through their own hands!
What we feel under the dome of Hagia Sophia, or while having a walk through Park Güell, should not be that different from what we feel in the warmth of our homes. We should feel majestic and swept with beauty, in our own private space. In the end – every man is a king in his own house.
The age of technological progress, our age, has its advantages – what was once luxury, reserved for more fortunate ones, in its own pace, becomes available, even necessary for everyone. Art has never belonged only to the elite, it belongs to every single one of us, to every man that ever lived, lives and shall live on the planet Earth – the integral part of human heritage.
Our imagination becomes reality, whenever possible, for better and for worse. Some ideas create Taj Mahals, some create turmoils and pain – it is a dance of history. It would be a lie to say that art was never misused for sinister purposes, but the folly of former ages passes with the merciless flow of time, so when we see the mosaic from the House of Faun, Pompeii, in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, depicting one of the battles of Alexander the Great, we do not see the destruction of ancient Persia, but a magnificent piece of art. Even if a particular work of art once had a propagandistic quality, it will lose it, at a certain point. Even if a work of art, in a beginning had a bad intention, in the end, it will achieve something good. Art is the most fragile and the most resilient of human activities and attainments, the noble side of our personality and our existence, our atonement and a never ending quest for beauty and happiness, for our soul. Art – the great catharsis and a great pilgrimage of the collective human consciousness, definer of humanity has followed us from the beginning and remains an aspect of human nature we must not ever lose.
The story of mosaic tiles and pixels is a story of brilliant ideas, and it was never meant to undermine the potential of modern technologies (the author of this text uses them regularly), but to underline the significance of art and of preservation and refreshing of the ancient techniques and ideas.