The Definition of Idealism and Naturalism
The situation of the society tends to vary based upon the specific period of time that it took place. The changes in the environment become observable through the different means of expression that makes an individual become aware of the particular kind of society that he or she is in. Ideologies play an important role in shaping the decisions and actions of people in certain time frame. This systematic beliefs and values serve as a guide by which people adhere their actions to. This kind of phenomenon is clearly applicable during the time of the classical period of Greeks and Romans wherein they follow the major tenets of Idealism and naturalism, respectively. This is quite observable in their perspective about things. Nevertheless, these ideologies is not only observable through the way they process things and in their speeches and written works because it is also evident in other forms of expression like the arts. In relation to this, this paper will analyze two specific statues created during the time of the classical period of Greeks and Romans in order to further understand and elaborate on the definition of Idealism and Naturalism.
Idealism is defined as “the view that reality of the world is a product of the mind, rather than the mind and its consciousness being a product of something nonmental” (Neujahr 5). In this definition, the supremacy of the mind is given due attention and importance. It tends to show that the mind of an individual is mainly responsible for his or her perception of his or her surroundings and the other things that are found within it. In this sense, everything that is nonmental or extramental has no independent existence or nature because everything is simply a product of the mind or sprit that makes something exists (Neujahr 5-6). In relation to this, the idea of perfectionism is also something that the mind produces. This show the best state of something or someone that is identified in the realm of perfection as no flaws is shown unlike in real situations. It cannot be considered as the epitome of reality as people could make things out of their mind that is exactly far from reality.
This kind of ideology is applied by the Greeks during the Classical period wherein their carved statues were made in its ideal and perfect form. The Greeks have this theoretical thinking of a mental picture of something that is in its perfect state. As a result, they have this tendency to want something in reality that coincides with their mental picture of a perfect state. There are several reasons as to why the Greeks adhered to Idealism. First, the disapproval for practical thought especially in the field of business. Second, they focus on humanism wherein human beings are given more importance rather than their surroundings. Thus, Greeks made statues in order to represent their ideal concept of beauty of the human figure. Third, they believe that observation is unreliable like the stick that becomes distorted in water (Fredricksmeyer). Lastly, Greeks also make sculptures to for religious purposes such as to glorify gods and goddesses like Zeus and Athena.
Idealism in the arts especially in the sculpture that the Greeks created is proven by the statue named: “Youth.” In the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), there is a highly idealized statue, which represents the figure of gods and goddesses. The statue of Youth is a highly idealized figure from the Late Classical Period, 370-320 B.C. According to the caption card in the MFA, “the figure was worked fully from the round and was probably set up over a tomb. The tender theme of handling his anatomy and hair gives the youth a dreamy impression. His pose is tender, asymmetrical, and supple” (“Youth”). His eyebrows were slightly upturned, and the straight nose that can be clearer to the viewer from the side. Along with the very soft smile on his long full face address him in a mixture of innocence and handsomeness. Although the figure is missing a left hand and most of the right arm, the S shape stand reminds me of the statue of the “Spear Bearer”, whose hand relaxed down. While the other one is bent slightly at the elbow and hangs by his side. On the other hand, “the statue of youth had an arm stretched forward, breaking into the space. The shadows, which reflect on the line of the back and the lower back muscles, encourage the viewer to go around the sculpture.” Based on the Youth’s stand, it can be noted that his left hip is thrust up and out and the right hip is thrust down and in. Also, the Youths body weight seems to be resting on his left foot, supported by the right one. The sculpture of Youth mentioned above is an example that supports idealism, which meant to address individuals perfectly by eliminating all signs of aging.
The definition of naturalism is “the philosophical generalization of science and its various forms are determined by the content and the method of the sciences” (Farber 3). Having this meaning of naturalism in mind, it can be said that naturalism adheres to the reality of the world. It investigates and analyzes things or phenomena based upon its actual occurrence. Moreover, since it follows rules and laws of science it applies the scientific method that includes observation, which is in contrary to the concept of idealism. Naturalism also tries to understand the world through scientific terms without any influence coming from spiritual or supernatural explanations. In this sense, naturalism goes for the detailed realistic and factual description of entities (“Naturalism”). As a result, naturalism can be understood as the organic picture of someone, or something. It is demonstrating the exact details, whether they are to be viewed beautiful, or ignominious, such as, wrinkles, pimples, uneven parts of the body…etc.
These themes were common among the Romans, in the Imperial Period, who made statues of the public and even elderly persons. These details can be found in the next sculpture that is also found in the Museum of Fine Arts, which is a Bust of an old man (“Bust of an old man”). This bust was made in the Imperial Period, about 30 B.C.–A.D. 50. The figure was carved from stone. The portrait shows an extreme form of realism, even the most unflattering features of this man’s face is observed. For instance, he has a pointed out head and a “cap-like” ridge on his forehead. Also, it is recognizable to visualize the wrinkles all over his face, neck and forehead, and a bonny, sagging jowl. He also has a long, thin face, and strong chin with a dimple. The head is slightly turned to the right, which breaks the primacy of frontal view. The left eyebrow is slightly heightened, which points the eyelid outward a little. His nose is damaged on the end, but it is slightly twisted to the right as well; that illustrates the sculptor in an eristic way. His hair is uncomplicated. This is in contrary with the Youth’s sculpture, which has a spherical, complex shaped hair. The Bust of the man has less hair with small waves and slight domed emerge on top of the head.
When an individual first looked at the old mans bust, instantly he or she will think of him as an old, haggard man. He has a tarring look with an upraised eyebrow. His lips are thin and his mouth is relaxed, which keeps the muscles loose. Based on the bust, I think that the male’s height would be less than the average, according to his scale. A fat bull and weak muscles, these arrangements along with his excretion reflects his unfolded and modest lifestyle. This type of realism was the first distinctly Roman style in art, and was thought to convey a sense of the subject’s experience, unwavering principles and everyday life, moving away from idealization, and/or exaggeration.
The two sculptures that can be seen in the Museum of Fine Arts depicted the ideology of Idealism and Naturalism that were followed by the society during its respective times. The Greeks give due importance to the power of the minds that motivated them to think and aspire perfection in their visual arts. On the other hand, the Romans are the exact opposite because they believe in naturalism that adheres to the reality of things and phenomenon as it is guided by sciences. In these cases, it can be seen that visual arts is one of the best way in expressing the state of the society at a particular time as it helps in representing the beliefs and values of the people.
“Bust of an old man.” 2009. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 22 March 2009.
< http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?coll_keywords= 1991.534&submit.x=0&submit.y=0>.
Farber, Marvin. Naturalism and Subjectivism. New York: SUNY Press, 1959.
Fredricksmeyer. “Greek Idealism: Philosophy, Sculpture, and Architecture.” 22 March 2009
“Naturalism.” 2006. Princeton University. 22 March 2009
Neujahr, Philip J. Kant’s Idealism. Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1995.
“Youth.” 2009. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 22 March 2009
< http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?coll_keywords= 04.283&submit.x=0&submit.y=0>.