TITLE: ''Mr Prakhov's Inaugural Lecture at the University (1874) (Letter to the Editorial Board of St Petersburg News)'' (1)
AUTHOR: V.V. Stasov
THIS VERSION: Copyright © 2002 Carol Adlam; all rights reserved. Redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the translator(s).
Introduction to the text
On Friday 22 February a new department opened in St Petersburg University: the Department of History of the Arts, the absence of which we have for so long felt. One might expect that Mr Prakhov will fully satisfy all requirements in taking up this post, since he has already been undertaking such work for a long time; indeed, we have heard that he has spent the last two years abroad with the aim of replenishing his knowledge of the artistic monuments of Greece, Italy and other European countries in situ. However, we have heard from people who attended his first inaugural lecture at the University that he expressed certain ideas there which cannot fail to astonish when coming from a modern Professor of Art.
When speaking of the difference between objects which pertain to the realm of art and those which do not, Mr Prakhov declared that the main distinction consists in the fact that the former have no utility function, while the latter have specifically this function in mind. As examples of the latter he cited a 'key' and 'a blueprint of a mechanical apparatus of some sort or other': objects which, in the words of the gentleman lecturer, no one would ever describe as pertaining to the realm of art. Many of those present found such a view extremely strange, and undoubtedly it might well come across to anyone like a quotation from a textbook on aesthetics from the good old days. The greater part of society has, after all, long since altered its ideas about 'sublime, ideal, transcendent' art, and there can scarcely be many today who would consider it degrading for 'true art' to serve the aims of everyday utility.
Indeed, it surely cannot be the case that we must exclude from any list of elevated or significant artistic creations the Parthenon and the Alhambra, or the Palestrina Mass and national anthem, or a dagger handle made by Benvenutio Chellini, or Albrecht Dürer's engraving of the crown of a sword-hilt - merely because all these objects were created not for idle admiration and artistic pleasure, but above all for active, practical usage?
Indeed, can it really be the case that our gentleman lecturer does not know that nowadays there is not a single, decent essay on art which would adhere to these silly partitions that have hindered the understanding of art for so long?
It is simply inadmissible nowadays to advocate art for art's sake after all that has been said and written on the subject. This is why we would very much like to receive an explanation: can it really be true that our new lecturer advocates such outmoded things and intends to conduct the remainder of his course in the same spirit?