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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

ADAM, Jacob Epstein's recent statue, was subjected to a barrage of mixed criticism when first presented before the public. The piece shocked many people because of its virile display of masculine strength which was convicted by the sculptor in no uncertain artistic terms.

It is difficult for anyone having even a vague knowledge of Epstein's work to deny his excellence as a sculptor. Such creations as DAY and NIGHT, GENESIS and ORIOL, ROSS show a new and invigorating vision completely free from academic stodginess. In many respects Epstein occupies the same relative position in his medium of expression, that of stone, as James Joyce does in the world of the novel, and his work is as difficult to grasp as Joyce's. To the religious person, the ADAM looms large as a distasteful desecration of the scriptures; some people gaze in silent admiration; others use the statue as the butt of obscene vilification.

A description of the statue would prove nothing. Its force of creative distortion would be frozen by the ice of descriptive wording. And in order to arrive at a fair evaluation of the ADAM'S worth, it would be necessary to devote many finely printed pages to a discussion of the statue, a discussion which would include Epstein's purpose, the complexity of various contemporary movements in sculpture, and a searching investigation of many other works of art which have been similarly received when first exhibited. Still the concentrated strength embodied in ADAM is penetrating enough to cause even the most aesthetically lethargic individual in the world to sit back and ponder a bit.

More important, however, than any evaluation of the statue is an estimate of the effect, beneficial or deleterious, which the ADAM may have on the average person's attitude towards the art has crawled out of the precarious position it occupied during the nineteenth century, a position between the pit of conservative morality and the pendulum of progressive realism, certain fundamental questions are still unanswered. We find ourselves still confronted with the time-worn, but nevertheless basic, problems. Shall we accept brutal, brazen phases of the world as art on a par with the more pleasant and morally pure aspects of our existence? Is there any difference between the moral and the immoral, the good and the evil, in the realm of art? in short, is an ugly truth, well-expressed, to be less acceptable to us than a beautiful truth, equally well-expressed, simply because of its ugliness?

Now critical standards are, at best, superimposed rationalizations of instinctive judgements. Any attempt to erect a standard of morality in art is nothing more than a class-room stunt. It is the old story of individual taste which has and will remain unchanged. But there is one new standard of critical truth which must not be overlooked, no matter how greatly individual tastes may vary: art is beginning to have political and social implications; it is becoming closely intertwined with the earth upon which we walk and the lives which we lead. Consequently, since art is in the process of adopting us, it is only fair that it adopt, to some extent, the ethical pattern within which we exist. Despite the fact that Epstein's interpretation of ADAM does not fit our own pattern of ethics, it still remains a solid contribution to the advancement of culture because of its thought-provoking nature. Art regains health and circulation after just such brisk intellectual rubdowns.

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