“What kind of knowledge is it that considers what continues to exist outside and independently of all relations, but which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that which is subject to no change, and is therefore known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the Ideas that are the immediate and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, of the will? It is art, the work of genius. It repeats the eternal Ideas apprehended through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world. According to the material in which it repeats, it is sculpture, painting, poetry, or music. Its only source is knowledge of the Ideas; its sole aim is communication of this knowledge.”
“Whilst science, following the restless and unstable stream of the fourfold forms of reasons or grounds and consequents, is with every end it attains again and again directed farther, and can never find an ultimate goal or complete satisfaction, any more than by running we can reach the point where the clouds touch the horizon; art, on the contrary, is everywhere at its goal. For it plucks the object of its contemplation from the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. This particular thing, which in that stream was an infinitesimal part, becomes for art a representative of the whole, an equivalent of the infinitely many in space and time. It therefore pauses at this particular thing; it stops the wheel of time; for it the relations vanish; its object is only the essential, the Idea.”
Source: Artur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, Book III, Dover Publications, New York 1969, pp. 184-185.
There is a distinction to be made if we talk about “masterpiece”: on the one hand paradigmatic works, on the other emblematic ones. Paradigmatic are the works that represent an era by synthesizing it in their forms. Paradigmatic are for example the villas of Neutra, where we breathe the Californian spirit of the 50s, with the myths of mass comfort and the promise of a “no sweat” life. Paradigmatic are the works of Zaha Hadid, which represent the aggressive and limitless world of the 90s, like the finance of those years. Paradigmatic works do not have to be necessary liked: they may be vulgar and irritating, but we need them to understand our past. Then there are the works that are emblematic. They can be recognized because they distance themselves from their own time. Louis Kahn certainly belongs to his time, to the American International Style monumentality, but to our eyes, his work goes beyond that condition, it is freed from it. Masterpieces, therefore, are works that can be recognized because they intend to stop time. This concept is taken from Schopenhauer who wrote that works of art are distinguished by the sensation they produce in us: by the fact that they “interrupt the wheel of time”. By interrupting the crunching wheel of time, they determine “enthusiasm” in us. In ancient Greek the term literally meant “entering the divine” and when you enter into the divine, at least for a moment, time is annulled and the masterpiece appears: healing us.
Valerio Paolo Mosco is Senior Lecturer at the IUAV University in Venice. He currently also teaches at the University of Navarra in Pamplona and the Cornell University’s Italian Program in Rome. Before, he taught at IIT Chicago, at the Faculty of architecture in Ferrara and at the University of engineering in Brescia. Valerio Paolo Mosco is editor in chief of Viceversa.