Art in the press

Artistic life in Lebanon during the decade preceding World War II by Arthur Frick

Artistic life in Lebanon during the decade preceding World War II and the thirty years following was marked by a great diversity in schools of thinking, forms of expression, and the innate contradictions of foreign residents and institutions which contributed to varieties of meanings.

Lebanon ’s involvement with differences is rooted in the millenniums of a history situated at the cross-roads of the World. As a consequence, the Lebanese cultural sphere has always been part of the historical traditions of the Middle East , but continuously broad enough to encompass the globe. Its civilization has continued to freely evolve and develop in spite of changing frontiers and the shifting demographics which have made political division apparent.

In the years 1930 to 1975, the flux and dynamics of Lebanese art would not have been possible without a democratic constitution which guaranteed freedom of art, research, and scholarship, and above all, the support of a people who enthusiastically contributed to an open market place for ideas. Thus, the responsibility for Lebanese culture at that time, resided with the individual.

Vigorous participation in the visual arts was based on the abilities of the Lebanese artists to deal with the modern world in its various artistic, technical, social, economic, philosophical, and spiritual aspects.

Although they were respecters of wholesome traditions, the artists were without need of refuge in the past. This self sufficient attitude engendered a cadre who for the main part, were in advance of their profession, rather than being content to remain in the safety of the rear guard. It is doubtful if such an energy level and such a degree of experimental involvement would have, been consistently maintained without the will for tolerance and a general open mindedness to the advent of internationalism and its enormous possibilities.

The capacities of these artists to come to a personal resolve with the stimulations of so many competing philosophies of art were in some measures the results of their professional training and the public support they were given. In Lebanon itself, the American University of Beirut offered graduate and undergraduate degrees in studio art and art education, a popular art seminars series, and provided an extensive, in – depth gallery program. Beirut College for Women presented a similar undergraduate curriculum, while the Academie Libanaise des Beaux Arts maintained an affiliation with the Academie des beaux Arts in Paris . In addition, several private schools gave individual and group instruction. Many of these artists had studied abroad and were recipients of Lebanese and foreign government scholarships for extended studies in such places as New York , London , Paris , Madrid and Rome . Along with a plethora of international exhibitions, there was a frequency of visiting artists from overseas who held shows of their works and conducted seminars and workshop in their areas of specialization.

Gallery life was lively. Hardly a week passed without several openings, whether at commercial galleries, cultural centers, government institutions, or universities. All of these were aided by the almost unconditional patronage of the collectors who contributed so much to the economic health of the visual arts. The continuance of the high level of artistry was assisted through the tireless efforts of art critics who persisted in their tasks of reviewing the multitude of presentations. In addition to the activities of local business groups and world-wide foundations which regularly subsidized international and all Arab exhibitions, the contributions of crafts persons, designers and architects added to the vitality.

Last, though hardly least, was the important role of the «café» an institution which served to generate and perpetuate essential exchanges between artists and other intellectuals, both foreign and national. It would be difficult to convey the nature of the conditions which influenced the arts during this great period of achievement without mention of the quality of place, the people, and the time.

Being both predictable and benign, the climate of Lebanon made it possible for easy social exchange. Its geology and flora are rich and varied enough to induce continuing interest in their qualities and in turn, to link one's sense of being with that place called Lebanon . There are always sufficient stimuli to perpetuate inventions of metaphors dealing with life's realizations through the observation of Lebanon 's natural phenomena. That in itself might be one of the factors which has contributed to the – pronounced interest of the Lebanese in aspects philosophical and visual.

Lebanon 's location with regard to geopolitics, commerce, and communications has placed specific demands on the survival and well being of its people. They are adaptable, open to compromise, and able to deal with diversity. This has resulted in the development of a society of persons who are pragmatic and practical, multilingual, individualistic, liberal, and democratic. It is perhaps because of these qualities and, their singular commitment to a purpose in life, that the Lebanese consider education to be one of the highest of their priorities. Such seems to have had considerable bearing on the kind and the amount of art training which was available during those years.

Like the forces at work during the Periclean age, wealth, optimism, and development were the conditions which prevailed during the forty-five years which constituted Lebanon 's «Golden Age». It was this period in which the world witnessed the remarkable transition of a country recovering from the debilitation of World War I, on its way to becoming one of the world's principle communication, trade, service, administrative, and financial centers, and for the Middle East , a major hub for educational cultural and tourist affairs.

It is to the lasting credit of the Lebanese that the growth of their arts kept time with the fast paced rhythm of the technological and physical development of their nation; and that the over whelming majority of their artists did not succumb to either materialist or popular persuasions. Notwithstanding the turmoil of profound economic and social change which altered the course of national being, 1930 to 1975 was a time of artistic integrity.

Arthur C. Frick, Professor of Art at Warburg College