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This essay by historian and politician Indalecio Liévano Aguirre for the magazine Revista de las Indias contains three parts in addition to the brief and untitled introduction and conclusion. The first provides an overview of art from antiquity, where man, faced with the perils of nature, was inclined to a sensibility of survival, one that yielded, in classical art, production akin to the real. The second section of the text discusses the emergence of a romanticism that eschewed classical “reality” and tended toward idealization, a quixotic and dream-like quality, and a notion of sublime vastness of the sort evident in the work of Antoine Watteau, Tintoretto, and Titian. In the third section, Liévano Aguirre describes the conditions necessary for understanding Modern art, calling attention to the lack of “vital modern culture.”
“El arte como expresión de las fuerzas fundamentales de la cultura” [Art as Expression of the Fundamental Forces of Culture] was published at a critical moment in Colombian art history, when artists could no longer refuse to accept the modern notion of autonomous art, and the wider Modernist project (in politics, art, architecture, urbanism, and so forth) was becoming an indisputable reality. This process took place in the 1940s and 1950s. By 1945, conservative politicians like Laureano Gómez (1889–1965) had published “El expresionismo como síntoma de pereza e inhabilidad en el arte” [Expressionism as Symptom of Laziness and Unsuitability in Art] (Revista Colombiana, January 1, 1937) and articles against Colombian artists Débora Arango (1907–2005) and Carlos Correa (1912–1985) had appeared in the press. Painters and sculptors associated with autonomous Modern art—artists like Alejandro Obregón (1920–1992), Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar (1923–2004), and Edgar Negret (1920?2012)—were increasingly influential. At the same time, more liberal Colombian authors like Luis Vidales (1900–1990) and Indalecio Liévano Aguirre (1917–1982) were beginning to discuss the conditions that would facilitate the acceptance of modern tendencies.
Though Liévano Aguirre does not mention any Colombian artist in particular, the third part of the essay is crucial to locating him in the debates of the time. Though he seems to confuse the term “Modern art” with abstraction, Liévano Aguirre describes the conditions necessary for Modern forms of expression to be understood, thus formulating a theoretical approach to Modernism in a context still hostile to it. For Liévano Aguirre, in Modernism, worn-out “aesthetic emotion” goes hand in hand with “the rational study of the work,” whereas, in traditional art, aesthetic emotion begins “in the heart as a specific and sentimental reaction of the subject to the object” (all quotes from pp. 373–74).
In the conclusion, though, Liévano Aguirre speaks of modern culture’s “lack of objective and vital direction” because of “a world so logical that it seems dead.” That world, he asserts, is heir to the rationalism of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), René Descartes (1596–1650), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831). Liévano Aguirre proposes a “total reconstruction of culture” for the sake of “perfect accord between the rational and the vital.”
Indalecio Liévano Aguirre studied law at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá. In 1944, after receiving his degree, he was named a member of the Academia Colombiana de Historia. Starting in 1943, he held a number of public offices: member of cabinet, ambassador, congressman, and senator.