Published in conjunction with the exhibition of Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] running until 26 May 2017.
Blame it on the Germans [or thank them profusely]. As Andreas Görgen reminded a quiet audience at the Villa Aurora–which among other things houses residencies for German artists in Los Angeles and serves as an embassy for German-American cultural relations–the Reformation created three ideas that are still playing out in our world today with great force and energy:
First, with Gutenberg’s press and new advances in the woodcut, spearheaded especially by Dürer, the Reformation gave birth to an entirely new and continually accelerating media environment capable of playing a central role in culture and history throughout Europe. The idea of creating a media environment fueled by ever-accelerating technological advances begins with the Reformation and its development continues unabated today across the entire globe.
Second, the Reformation created a new idea of freedom, whereby a believer could interpret the Bible or any ideology for themselves, and had the right to act as a free agent to freely think, vote, and communicate for themselves in public forums and any media. This included the right to read and think for oneself concerning one’s own beliefs, and to speak freely from those beliefs. This lead to a further development of the modern idea of liberty that would fuel political developments and thinking outside of the German-speaking world, especially in the French and English-speaking traditions. Today, this idea and its further development is now a global phenomenon, no longer limited to Protestant Europe.
Third, the growth of Humanism begins with the Renaissance, but only attains the full breadth of its conception and its centrality to European consciousness during the Reformation. Humanism promoted the idea that there should be a rational basis for thought and culture based on human experience and direct observation. During the Reformation this conception was coupled with the idea of developing a reality-based methodological approach to ascertain the truth that could be applied to any given situation, whether it be a court of law, a scientific inquiry, a historical study, or to attack problems in government, finance, or industry. This new conception of reality-based thinking spreads rapidly across Europe during the Reformation. Today, it is still at the center of the historical struggles confronting us, including the debate waged against it by reactionary forces primarily fueled by fundamentalist religious dogma of every stripe as they take a last stand against evidence-based thought. Though we’ve come a long way since the Reformation, this idea is still in many ways at the core of the most profound struggles of our time.
It was the combining of all three of these ideas that led eventually to the idea of a free press as an integral part of an open society, and a vehicle for vetting the truth, and calling power to be responsible to that truth, another struggle that continues to drive developments across the globe today.
Andreas gave his talk during a reception in connection with the exhibition of Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] put on in conjunction with the Staatliche Museum zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, and made possible by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. The exhibition will run from 20 November 2016 through 26 May 2017.
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