A Companion to Modern Art
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A Companion to Modern Art

Pam Meecham, Dana Arnold, Pam Meecham

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A Companion to Modern Art

Pam Meecham, Dana Arnold, Pam Meecham

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About This Book

A Companion to Modern Art presents a series of original essays by international and interdisciplinary authors who offer a comprehensive overview of the origins and evolution of artistic works, movements, approaches, influences, and legacies of Modern Art.

  • Presents a contemporary debate and dialogue rather than a seamless consensus on Modern Art
  • Aims for reader accessibility by highlighting a plurality of approaches and voices in the field
  • Presents Modern Art's foundational philosophic ideas and practices, as well as the complexities of key artists such as Cezanne and Picasso, and those who straddled the modern and contemporary
  • Looks at the historical reception of Modern Art, in addition to the latest insights of art historians, curators, and critics to artists, educators, and more
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Part I
Ancient & Modern

Revitalizing Romanticism; or, Reflections on the Nietzschean Aesthetic and the Modern Imagination

Colin Trodd
The tragic artist is not a pessimist – it is precisely he who affirms all that is questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian
(Nietzsche 2003 [1889], 49)
We must constantly give birth to our thoughts out of our pain, and nurture them with everything we have in us of blood, heart, fire, pleasure, passion, agony, conscience, fate and catastrophe. Life to us – that means constantly transforming everything we are into light and flame, as well us everything that happens to us.
(Nietzsche 2001 [1887a], 6)
The world as work of art that gives birth to itself.
(Nietzsche 1967, 419)
In 1941, the Harvard academic Crane Brinton claimed that Friedrich Nietzsche's followers could be divided into two groups: the “gentle” Nietzscheans, for whom human life was dedicated to understanding the nature and function of illusions; and the “tough” Nietzscheans, for whom human life was the attempt to engage with, struggle against, or concatenate, a myriad of energies. All the same, both groups, interested in the complexity of human beliefs and thoughts, not with standards of verification and validity, concluded that art was the key creative response to an intrinsically alien universe (Brinton 1941, 184–185).1 If Brinton's “tough” model gets most of the attention in what follows, then this is because the Nietzsche it articulates, who equates the term “life” with the idea of the diversity of the world, was an important reference point for a number of modern artists, writers, and commentators. Many of these figures were sympathetic to the principal critical assertions of Romanticism: that human life was a perpetual struggle to understand the division within being; that art arises from the experience of living in a body; and that the imagination, as condition of perpetual reflection, confirmed the creative authority of the cultural activity known as myth. As I will argue below, these conceptualizations allowed Nietzsche to become the “strong enchanter” for those individuals whose analytical interests and critical procedures obliged them to converse with Romanticism.2 This relationship is punctuated by three broad concepts, each of which was attractive to different artists and artistic communities: first, the idea that the mind, as active process, embellished, enriched, or completed the world in the process of picturing it; second, the idea that philosophical thought should concentrate on the aesthetic life of humanity; third, the idea that the systems of science and technology threatened the sensuous subject by questioning the value of cultural life. The logical outcome of these conceptualizations, as formulated by the first-wave of Nietzschean creators, was that the creative artist is involved in a perpetual struggle to create mental compositions, intuited truths, and dynamic world-pictures; and that Nietzscheanism was destined to become the prism by which modern art should be understood.3
The history presented in this chapter is necessarily partial and investigative, not definitive. It endeavors to outline a picture of a heterogeneous whole, a set of diverse ideas, phenomena, and groupings brought into contact, and forming a meaningful system, by the critical category “Nietzschean.” The chapter is at once descriptive (it notes main themes and issues) and critical (it explains the nature, scope and impact of these themes and issues); it is not a guide to Nietzsche's reputation in modern culture.4 In short, it looks at the artistic and cultural tradition to which Nietzsche gave rise. As outlined here, Nietzsche's views on culture and life are identified as symbiotic, as they were for the majority of his original auditors and exegetes. Although they found his writings both dazzling and challenging, many commentators reassured themselves that his critique of industrial modernity – what Nietzsche called the “struggle against the … mechanistic nitwitization of the world” – was foreshadowed by Romantic culture, which resisted the reduction of value to reason (Nietzsche 2014 [1886], 158). Reading Nietzsche, then, allowed artists and thinkers to return to a major preoccupation of Romantic discourse: the belief that social modernity, through its valorization of commerce and manufacture, had shrunken and enfeebled the physiological and cognitive bases of life; robbed it of a culture rooted in mythos, the creative energy that raises art to the status of reality. As will be seen, Nietzsche functioned as a cultural catalyst: he enabled star-struck admirers to insist that the most pressing concern of art was the realization of the subject's sublime potential through the development of critical energy and kinetic power, pre-requisites for the appearance of living culture. Nietzsche, as these commentators conceived him, allowed the modern subject to identify and intensify the heroic vitalism needed to sustain life.5

Being Vital

The terms of this critical engagement of Nietzsche explain his significance and effectiveness in European cultural circles around 1900. Three responses can be noted at this point. First, his intellectual cosmopolitanism was exciting for artists, thinkers, and critics who equated creative activity with the ideal of universal culture. Second, his understanding of society as collective ontology, the idea that beliefs and consciousness can be explained by reflecting on what is meant by human beingness in different social settings, satisfied those individuals, groupings, and movements dedicated to spotlighting the psychological bases of art production. In turn, these propositions functioned as the critical armature whereby Nietzsche's interests were summarized as continuations of Romantic discourse, where the aesthetic is categorized in terms of spontaneous power and creativity: the desire to see life as the subject sees itself seeing.6
Universalism, aesthetic life, and imaginative act: these overlapping concepts indicate the complicated ways in which Nietzscheanism and Romanticism commingled in the workings of different modern cultural communities. Nietzsche, as audited by representatives of these various groupings, was at once champion of the individual human psyche and angelus figure pointing to a new understanding of human energy as the key to collective identity and psycho-social coherence. Nietzscheanism, as it developed over time, became the obsidian mirror by which Romanticism revealed itself to modern thought. As will be demonstrated, some figures believed that Nietzsche was a Romantic because he was committed to overcoming old ways of seeing, being and acting. Others saw him as a liberating visionary heralding a world vitalized by an aesthetic dedicated to remodeling inherited concepts of mental activity. Still others found a psycho-explorer and messianic leader whose genius was the association of culture with the need to face incarnate inexhaustible struggle, to define the self as something seeking a condition of immanent togetherness through inwardness. At the same time, Nietzsche was celebrated for other reasons: his writing was dazzlingly alive; he argued for an art of radiant joy in living; he was intoxicated by the burning spirit of the universe.7
These attitudes were elaborated most fully in Europe, where numerous individuals discovered in Nietzsche a way of meshing philosophy, psychology, culture, and history to question traditional models of consciousness, perception, social development, and the history of ideas.8 He intrigued or dazzled important literary figures, thinkers, and composers: Gabriele D'Annunzio, Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud, Hugo Ball, Georges Bataille, Gottfried Benn, Ernst Bloch, Georg Brandes, Martin Buber, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Frederick Delius, George Egerton, Havelock Ellis, Stefan Georg, André Gide, Julius Meier-Graefe, T. E. Hulme, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Percy Wyndham Lewis, Gustav Mahler, Thomas Mann, F. T. Marinetti, A. R. Orage, Georg Simmel, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Strauss, August Strindberg, Ferdinand Tönnes, H. G. Wells, Heinrich Wölfflin and W. B. Yeats. “Nietzscheanism,” or the idea of “Nietzschean” art, fascinated leading artists: Aubrey Beardsley, Henri-Gaudier-Brzeska, Giorgio de Chirico, Le Corbusier, Henri Edmond Cross, Max Ernst, Hannah Hoch, Augustus John, Wassily Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, Max Klinger, František Kupka, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso, André Masson, Edvard Munch, Charles Ricketts, Luigi Russolo, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Giovanni Segantini, Henry van der Velde – and many others.9 A number of these individuals believed that Romanticism provided the critical resources for grasping the nature of Nietzsche's thought; and most European avant-garde art movements and groupings, from fin de siècle Symbolism to Expressionism, Futurism, Vorticism and Dadaism, grappled with his theories, adapted his ideas to fresh critical settings, or insisted on thematic affinities between themselves and his writings. This is not the place for a full-blown assessment of the cogency of these interpretations, many of which identified Nietzscheanism as the successoral movement of Romanticism, but it is important to stress that by linking Nietzsche to Romanticism commentators could see his brilliant readings of Hamlet and Beethoven in terms of the Romantic project: the never-ending search for those new spaces which self-creating art brings into being.10
As these remarks indicate, Nietzsche provided the stimulus for different models of representing existence: he compelled his readers to occupy the imagination; he commanded his admirers to see the world as luminous and crystalline; and he heralded a new age of individual liberation through unfettered aesthetic creativity. “Nietzsche” was another way of describing a number of processes whereby art, criticism, and cultural discourse tried to identify new values for living in the world. And what united these strands of thought was the conviction that Nietzsche's goal was the generation of systems of representation dedicated to aestheticizing the universe.11
This last point, which affirms the ontologically generative power of art, strikingly illustrates the nature of turn-of-the-century en...

Table of contents

Citation styles for A Companion to Modern Art
APA 6 Citation
[author missing]. (2017). A Companion to Modern Art (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/993577/a-companion-to-modern-art-pdf (Original work published 2017)
Chicago Citation
[author missing]. (2017) 2017. A Companion to Modern Art. 1st ed. Wiley. https://www.perlego.com/book/993577/a-companion-to-modern-art-pdf.
Harvard Citation
[author missing] (2017) A Companion to Modern Art. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/993577/a-companion-to-modern-art-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
[author missing]. A Companion to Modern Art. 1st ed. Wiley, 2017. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.