2005 | 6 | 103-134
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Stanislaw Lack's Art Criticism

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Stanislaw Lack, a student of literature and the visual arts, active from 1897 to 1907, is practically forgotten today. His contemporaries saw him mainly as a commentator on Wyspianski's art, as in Wyspianski's oeuvre he found the fulfilment of the ideal of the art postulated by himself. Lack's critical activity concurred with the early phase of criticism of Young Poland , thus with a period abounding in various manifestoes, programmes, and discussions aimed at the struggle for a new status of an artist and art. Lack stood for fully autonomous art created by a genius - an individual who was exceptional, above time and space, above all norms and rules, above morality. He wrote that the condition of artistry was creative activity which was disinterested, thus free from tendentiousness, moralizing, and any form of public utility. Although he rejected all trends and styles, considering them artificial and useless creations, a symbol itself played an important role in his theory, as it permitted a synthetic rendition, by means of line and colour, of the most dramatic moments in human life, of a man's spiritual dilemmas. The ability to create syntheses was one of the elements distinguishing a symbol from an allegory; the latter, as Lack repeatedly emphasized, could only illustrate a man, endow him with a characteristic or pose. Furthermore, in the critic's concept a symbol was an important significant means of showing the 'eternal presence' of the past; it enabled the artist to interpret history, thereby expressing his own epoch, the spirit of his age and place. The majority of researchers wrongly called Lack an Impressionist critic, since impression in his critical language was only a synonym of art, whereas his method of reaching what was hidden and thus most important in a work of art permits his criticism to be defined as emphatic. A great deal has been written about Lack's dismissive attitude towards the reader; the critic usually described a work of art as if it were known perfectly well to the reader and thus not needing to be recalled or briefly introduced to him. What impedes the comprehensibility of his texts is the lack of means of persuasion and - first and foremost - peculiar terminology. Lack is an almost standard example of Young Poland's tendency to depart from generally accepted terms in favour of metaphors and ephemeral terms introduced for one's own use. He created an individual idiolect present in his writings. Consequently, his was one of the most original critical jargons of Young Poland. However, the individuality of his idiom resulted in a total lack of understanding both among his contemporaries and among present-day researchers. How far he has been underrated may be evidenced not only by the concurrence of many of his concepts with the art theories of that time but by the topicality of his writings which also art historians today may find useful in their studies on Young Poland's artistic output and on the evolution of the contemporary aesthetic doctrines and issues concerning theory of literature.
  • D. Wasilewska, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza, Instytut Historii Sztuki, al. Niepodleglosci 4, 61-874 Poznan, Poland
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