Louis Sullivan: Kindergarten Chats: The Art of Expression 3: Feudal Arts

Now it has been part of out work to expand and concentrate the meaning of words, of phrases. To extricate them from their provincial confinement and let them go free in the world of men. Such a parlor-phrase is now before us, namely: the Art of Expression. Its use has been limited almost exclusively to the so-called fine arts and perhaps particularly to the art of writing poetry and prose. That is to say, it has retained a strictly feudal meaning, in the sense that it is a direct expression of elitism in a quite limited aristocratic and sub-sufficient sense. I call it provincial, not because it is so in actual fact but because it is so in actual use. Like almost all feudal words and phrases it ignores the needs of humanity, it centers in a narrow elitism. The phrase therefore needs liberation.

It must take on a great expansiveness and power of symbolism. It must be exalted into a universal guiding principle and power: else shall it fail to satisfy and inspire the brain, the heart of a humanistic work. In short, we must change its significance from feudal to Humanistic. We must so broaden its scope that it shall include all human activity. For it is the function of the Humanistic Civilization to liberate, broaden, intensify and focus every human faculty; to utilize every human power now unused, abused, or running to waste. For Human Civilization in its heart would abolish all human wastages in their tortuous winding, in impasses, in sorrow, in vicious misdirection. It would, in its efficiency, its thorough-going knowledge and understanding, establish universal productiveness and human poise; the first fruits of is vision, of its discovery of man and his powers. Its conception of of the art of expression is founded on man’s evident spiritual integrity, and his high moral power of choice. It proposes to guide him, to organize him, the the exercise of his various powers of Worker, Inquirer, Thinker and Dreamer. It purposes that man shall sense himself and realize himself.

It knows and understands why feudal civilizations have ever ended in downfall and the wreckage of disaster. It knows and understands the soul of feudalism. It knows that the thought, the feeling , of the world of man is slowly, surely passing out of that domain of provincialism of the mind. If knows that man’s heart is essentially pure, his mind essentially clean. It knows that man thus far has lived by fear alone. In its own courage, Human Civilization would abolish fear, would banish it, would dispel it as a fetid ghost. It would blow down dissolve, the wall that Fate has seemed to rear, it would expose the world to man’s clearing vision.

[Note: The text is from Kindergarten Chats, condensed and edited]

[Note: What is the opposite of Feudalism? What is the name for a civilization based the nature of man? I have replaced Sullivan's term for it,"Democracy", by "Human Civilization" because it better conveys his meaning.]

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3 Responses to Louis Sullivan: Kindergarten Chats: The Art of Expression 3: Feudal Arts

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  3. The goodness of the human heart is certainly questionable. As for the usefulness of words, sounds in the air and marks on parchment become problematic as soon as they take on meaning. At that point they become systemic – bondage rather than liberation. However, there is a place, a clean place, a liberated place where true communication happens. That place is in the Spirit.

    Love!

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