Original Document
Original Document
Charles Sheeler, "Notes on an Exhibition of Greek Art," 1925.

 The exhibition of Greek Art on view at the Whitney Studio Galleries gives an excellent opportunity to study the transition from the largely emotional approach of the artists of the Sixth Century B.C., as exemplified in the head of a Core, to the finely adjusted balance of emotion and intellect in the works of the Fourth Century B.C., as the figure of Aphrodite bears witness. It is of further interest to examine the evidence, as it is beautifully demonstrated in the Aphrodite, that as great purity of plastic expression may be achieved through the medium of objective foams as has been thought to be only obtainable by some of our present day artists, by means of a purely abstract presentation of forms.

The study of abstract problems by pure reason had its origin with the Greeks. Pure speculation in philosophy, as well as in Art, began with them. While developing the mind they also developed the body of man to a high degree of physical perfection. A perfect balance was maintained between the mind and nature, and the means of realizing both of these elements in a single entity was called Art. The Greek miracle was accomplished by the perfect adjustment of concrete form to abstract thought. In Greek sculpture geometry was the science of form.

The knowledge of form was gained and verified by exact observation and correct thinking. Quite different from the geometric art of primitive man, who only conceived form in the imaginary terms of lines and combinations of lines with which he constructs imaginary images addressing themselves to pure feeling, the Art of the Greeks addresses itself to the intelligence as well as to the emotions. It has been demonstrated convincingly that the Greeks evolved a geometric system of measurements for determining the desired proportions and the relation of the parts to the whole in their sculptures depicting the human figure.

The units of measurement varied with the individual work, thereby avoiding the standardization of their Art. It is interesting to note that these geometrical measurements for determining proportions and rhythms are not applicable to Roman copies of Greek sculpture. This geometric basis was the internal structure, skillfully concealed, around which was built the objective aspect of nature with all of its sensorial attributes.

In our day the attempt to establish this geometric structure at times results in erecting a barrier between the observer and a direct contact and reaction to the combinations of objective forms. The profound understanding of the harmony of rhythms and proportions enabled the Greek to create sculptures of the smallest dimensions which have the grandeur and scale of works of heroic proportions, as the small Aphrodite and the caryatid well illustrate. So perfectly do the rhythms function that even in a fragment like the section of a figure, the life of the complete conception is not abated. In the large Aphrodite, it is interesting to observe that the leg supporting the weight of the body, as well as the one in advance, is flexed, giving a beautiful sense of a progression of movement which projects our interest into the future.

Parallel to the intellectual and precise art of the great artists there was in Greece, at all times, an art of pure inspiration which filled a public necessity. It evolved from the fetish to the votive offering and the illustration of life and its caricature. This art frequently offered to the artists who worked in bronze and marble an example, but more often followed the types conceived by the greater artists. It kept its own identity, always evolving but keeping in each period of Greek life a definite character.

The great art of sculpture was made of precious materials worthy of the gods to whom it was dedicated. The popular art of the humble koroplasts was made of earth for humans, and if the greater art reveals to us the high mentality of the Greek artist, the figurines reproduce with intensity the dominant characteristics of the contemporary aesthetic.

Credit: Charles Sheeler, "Notes on an Exhibition of Greek Art," The Arts (March 1925), in Martin Friedman, Bartlett Hayes, and Charles Millard, Charles Sheeler (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1968), 93-94.
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