Metropolitan Museum, NY
Photograph by the author
No one knows who made these distinctive statues, or why; theories about fertility cults, goddesses, and so on have consequently proliferated.
What is certain to me is that these figurines, as expressive as they are, embody in a highly symbolic manner the phenomenon of inner gravity.
Now, the experience of real inner gravity is a mystery that one does not read about much; when discussions about gravity take place, they usually refer to the external phenomenon, which is an obvious physical one, or gravitas, that is, a certain weighty emotional dignity. Yet gravity, in an inner sense, becomes cellular relative to the receiving of solar vibrations; and the anchoring of one's entire being in a most physical way, which is experienced by the psyche itself as a weight, a literal weight, not a figurative one, creates an inner movement rooted in the foundation and essence of Being itself.
These figures seem to find a way to express that visually; and I suppose there is no other way to do it, since words always seem to me to be absolutely inadequate in the expression of this mystery, which is perhaps one of the deepest and most profound mysteries I can think of.
Just as we are vessels into which the world flows, so does this gravity embody that principle — one draws in the world.
To me, these figures equally express a reminder of the receiving of a different kind of inner energy. Even the tall, thin ones, with their angular faces express dignities that seem long ago and far away from our present state of spiritual deterioration. Their simplicity, their gravity, and their angularity all express measures of nobility; how many of our arts today can do that? Paleolithic and Neolithic artworks seem to express that dignity in their nature itself; those qualities cannot be divorced from the work, because they are inherent. One doesn't need to look for them or read them into it; it is already there from the beginning, as though that spiritual dignity where the whole reason that the work were made in the first place.
A friend of mine remarked on going from the John Singer Sargent show at the Metropolitan Museum into the African Pavilion, at noticing a striking difference between art of the ego and personality — which Sargent exemplified — and art of the essence, which is all one really sees in the art of Oceana and Africa. Each one of these represents a polarity; and each brings to us its own versions of both refinement and crudity, which exist on either end of the spectrum. But there is something about the cycladic art, the art that predates the eruption of Hellenistic realism, that speaks about mankind catching its collective breath at the end of the cycle.
Hellenism certainly represented the striking of a new note; but cycladic and Minoan art — even, to some extent, Etruscan art — seem to be the final reverberations of a much older and fully mature octave. Something different was taking place in human culture then; and their ancient arts reflect it. Picasso noticed it; and it had an enormous influence on the way he painted. He was, in his own way, trying to erotically resurrect the ancient Mediterranean cultures of his homeland. He came close; but what he tried to do was the work of magicians and gods.
We cannot resurrect Being as it was; all we can do is embody Being as it is. If we don't find the gravity, the gravity of the soul, that dwells within us, we will embody very little indeed.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.