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Ferdinand Avenarius on the Fine Arts: Inaugural Issue of Der Kunstwart (October 1, 1887)

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This is shown most clearly by a glance at the area of craftwork, which has undergone a revival. If the life of our imagination were more vigorous, we would succeed even more often in revealing the inner essence of an industrial product by way of its external appearance, and we would be less inclined to borrow from products that served other purposes in the past or to seize upon decoration that is purely superficial and thus in no way characteristic of the object to which it is applied. Until quite recently, a utensil whose form unmistakably expressed its essence, its intended function, was the exception and not the rule in many areas of craftwork. It is only in recent years that people have reflected upon the fact that material, function, and form are interdependent, and have attempted with ever more practiced imagination to give visual expression to this relationship.

Admittedly, a truly healthy flowering of craftwork, one that promises seed bearing-fruits, has not yet been reached in all of its branches. For this to happen, all the creative powers at work here have to express, reinforce, and foster one another in a formal language: in a formal language that is just as necessary here as a common verbal language is for the poetry of a country, even though the former is not considered nearly as important as the latter. Each and every style grows, ages, and dies; as of yet, we have no style that developed out of our own nature. On account of this, we appropriate sentiments and immerse ourselves in the modes of expression of past generations. Even an adopted child can become closely connected to our feeling, can further our feeling, if only we are able to raise it over the course of a prolonged period of togetherness. Even an appropriation of sentiment would allow us to gain something of our own, just as the German Gothic style became the German Renaissance style by appropriating the sentiments of the Italian Renaissance. Our misfortune, however, lies in a restless shifting from one style to the next. Through academic inspiration, the revival of craftwork was directed toward the forms of the Renaissance, which Vienna clung to most insistently, which Munich cultivated with an emphasis on the German national theme, and which Berlin absorbed as well, though with drier and poorer imagination. From the Renaissance, the shift towards the Baroque began soon enough, and this in turn was followed by the Rococo. And so we tried to become acquainted with an ever-changing formal language, although this was very much to the disadvantage of the artist-craftsmen, who had barely become familiar with the Renaissance, and equally disadvantageous to the public, which was torn away from a certain mode of expression before it had even become accustomed to it. It is clear that, because of this, the development of an autonomous formal language in which foreign forms merge with the sentiments of our people and our times has been repeatedly pushed into the distance.

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