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Death of Classicism

Oedipus and the SphinxSouren Melikian certainly put me in the Christmas spirit with his article (Classicism to Cataclysm: A Cycle's End, December 20) in the International Herald Tribune. He reviews two shows at the Louvre, Tanagra: Mythe et archéologie [Tanagra: Myth and Archaeology] and L'Esprit Créateur de Pigalle à Canova [The Creative Spirit From Pigalle to Canova], both of which ended on January 5. The description of the two exhibits and how the rage for Classical art influenced the last two centuries of art history is interesting. However, he also uses that platform to answer an interesting and depressing question: "How did the Western fascination with the legacy of Ancient Greek and Roman art come to an end?" Melikian connects the end of artistic interest in Classical art with the general decline of educational focus on antiquity:

It was the crumbling of its literary foundation that signaled the ultimate demise of Classicism. Until the eve of World War II, Greek and Latin humanities underpinned traditional West European cultural values. By the time they left high school, young Europeans were familiar with Greek myths, had read parts of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and knew by heart poems by Virgil and Horace. Greek was the first to go. Nowadays, Latin is on its last legs. The destruction process hit the visual arts a very long time ago, as witness Canova's first thoughts, so different from his finished art.
You may remember that, last month, I was complaining about this deficit in my own education (see my post Childhood in Greek Art, December 8), but I had never really thought about connecting our general ignorance because of declining educational values with an artistic trend.

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