Modern Art And Modernism
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Modern Art And Modernism

A Critical Anthology

Francis Frascina

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eBook - ePub

Modern Art And Modernism

A Critical Anthology

Francis Frascina

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Modern Art and Modernism offers firsthand material for the study of issues central to the development of modern art, its theory, and criticism. The history of modern art is not simply a history of works of art, it is also a history of ideas interpretations. The works of critics and theorists have not merely been influential in deciding how modern art is to be seen and understood, they have also influenced the course it has taken. The nature of modern art cannot be understood without some analysis of the concept of Modernism itself.Modern Art and Modernism presents a selection of texts by the major contributors to debate on this subject, from Baudelaire and Zola in the nineteenth century to Greenberg and T. J. Clark in our own times. It offers a balanced section of essays by contributors to the mainstream of Modernist criticism, representative examples of writing on the themes of abstraction and expression in modern art, and a number of important contributions to the discussion of aesthetics and the social role of the artist. Several of these are made available in English translation for the first time, and others are brought together from a wide range of periodicals and specialized collections.This book will provide an invaluable resource for teachers and students of modern art, art history, and aesthetics, as well as for general readers interested in the place of modern art in culture and history.

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Art General


Art and Society

30 The Development of Modern Art

Julius Meier-Graefe
The incomprehensibility of painting and sculpture to the general public has been shrouded in a veil of pretentious exposition. The amount of talking and writing about art in our day exceeds that in all other epochs put together. The increase of sociability arising from increase of wealth made it necessary to invent suitable occupations for unproductive energies. Chatter about art became a highly popular form of such amusement; it requires no special preparation, no exertion, is independent of weather and seasons, and can be practised in drawing-rooms! Art has become like caviar - every one wants to have it, whether they like it or not. The immaterial elements of the former give a certain intellectual tone to the sport, which is lacking in a feast of caviar; it is therefore complacently opposed to such material enjoyments. The discussion of art in Germany (the home, par excellence, of such discussion) originated in the dark days of the nation during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when men were dreaming romantically of the great things they lacked. Nevertheless, it was more fruitful than it is now; it was the sphere of great personalities, and the origin of an idealism, which, though impotent, was sincere. Nothing of all this has survived but a subsidiary function. It is the form of entertainment affected by families who do not give expensive dinner-parties. It has become the feudal cognisance of the aspiring bourgeoisie, as necessary to the well-educated as some indispensable garment.
Love of art, however, especially the kind of love that goes beyond platonic limits, becomes rarer as those who meddle with it multiply in every land. Purchase has become the touchstone of such affection; like marriage, it is a practical token of sentiment, and even to the artist, this evidence is generally more important than the impulse that inspired it.
It can hardly be otherwise now. If art is to be anything, it must not arouse merely that languid attention which people manifest when they politely approve something as ‘very interesting’. It is not enough that it should inspire the pens of scribblers, and develop itself alone, and not others. In the form to which it is confined today - that of picture or statue, a marketable commodity - it could only exercise an influence by fulfilling the purpose of other marketable things: that of being purchased. But the popularisation of art is rendered impossible by the extravagant prices commanded by recognised works of art and demanded for those that are not so recognised, by a frantic, absurd and, unhappily, thoroughly dishonest traffic. I can conceive of rich people who would refrain from the purchase of pictures out of sheer disgust at the trade, a desire to keep their hands clean. The purchasing amateur is a personality made up of the most obscure springs of action. The absolutely incalculable fluctuations in prices, the influence of fashion, nowhere so demented as in this connection, the desire to go on improving his collection, i.e., to bring it up to the fashionable standard of the moment, forces the collector to be always selling, to become the shamefaced dealer, who is, of course, the most shameless, and who introduces additional elements of disorder into a commerce already chaotic. The result is that there are, as a fact, no buyers, but only dealers, people who pile their pictures one above the other, deal exclusively, or almost exclusively, with each other, and have no connection with the real public. Statistics, showing how few are the hands to which the immense artistic wealth of the world is confined, would make a sensation. A great London dealer once told me that he had only three customers! Durand-Ruel, of Paris, has several times had certain famous Impressionist pictures in his possession at progressive prices, rising some 1000 per cent each time, and the purchasers have often been the same persons on several occasions.
Such conditions reduce the aesthetic usefulness of a work to a minimum. Pictures become securities, which can be kept locked up like papers. Even the individual, the owner, ceases to enjoy his possession. Nine-tenths of the most precious French pictures are kept for nine-tenths of the year in magnificent cases, to protect them from dust. Sales are effected as on the Bourse, and speculation plays an important part in the operations. The goods are scarcely seen, even at the sale. A typical, but by no means unique, example is afforded by the late Forbes collection. It consisted of I forget how many hundreds or thousands of pictures. To house them, the owner rented the upper storey of one of the largest London railway stations, vast storehouses, but all too circumscribed to allow of the hanging of the pictures. They stood in huge stacks against the walls, one behind the other: the Israels, Mauves and Marises were to be counted by hundreds, the French masters of 1830 by dozens; there were exquisite examples of Millet, Corot, Daubigny, Courbet, etc., and Whistler. Although the stacks of pictures were held up by muscular servants, the enjoyment of these treasures was a tremendously exhausting physical process. One walked between pictures; one felt capable of walking calmly over them! After five minutes in the musty atmosphere, goaded by the idiotic impulse to see as much as possible, and the irritating consciousness that it was impossible to grasp anything, every better instinct was stifled by an indifference that quenched all power of appreciation. The deathly calm one broke in upon, as one toiled sweating through these bare gigantic rooms where there was no space to turn, the whistling of the engines, the trembling of the floor as the trains ran in and out below, seemed to inspire a kind of strange fury, a silent longing to destroy the whole lot.
Who would be the loser if this were actually done? If anything could justify anarchism, it is the knowledge that the greatest artists toil in poverty, to enable a few dealers to grow rich after their deaths, and a few fanatics to hoard their works in warehouses. The most notorious vices are not so grotesquely irrational as this mania for hoarding, which, owing to its apparent innocuousness, has not yet been recognised as a malady. All the famous collectors of Paris, London and America are more or less tainted with this disease. We enter their houses full of eager anticipation, and quit them with a sigh of relief, half suffocated by the pictures that cover every inch of wall-space, and wholly depressed, not by a feeling of envy, but by the thought that there are people who have voluntarily accepted the torture of spending their lives among all these things.
Even if a wiser economy should improve the conditions we have described, it will never be possible to induce a better appreciation of art by commercial means. Hence all the fine ideas of ‘popular art’ are doomed to remain mere dreams. It is materially impossible to produce pure works of art at prices that will bring them within the means of the masses. The Fitzroy Society in England, and the publishers of the prints for the Rivière School in Paris made the attempt, and in Germany Thoma was inspired by the same ideal in the production of his lithographs. All these attempts have only served to stimulate the collecting mania. Every speculation that panders to this instinct is successful, whether it deals with postage stamps or pictures. There is no question of aesthetic principle in the matter. I believe that the plebeian would really prove accessible to a revival of artistic influences, if he could possess a picture of his own, to hang up. But a work of art could never be cheap enough for this, for if it cost but tenpence, the poor man will always prefer to save his tenpence, towards the purchase of something necessary to his physical well-being. An artistic propaganda that relies on purchasable and abstract works of art must always fail. It can only succeed by means of industry, by producing things which combine artistic and utilitarian qualities. As long as we neglect these, we need not wonder to find the artistic sense of the lower orders more depraved than at any other period of the world’s history.
The social struggle is breaking down class distinction; the intelligent outcast of today is the millionaire of tomorrow. Nothing opposes the rise of the proletarian in the modern state, and he brings his lack of culture with him into his higher sphere. The man who has had no aesthetic stimulus in his period of development will, as a rule, have no lofty requirements when chance has made him an influential member of the community, though he may stimulate these, and so add a new source of error to those already present.
For what then do artists create, pending what is generally the posthumous consummation - that accumulation of their works described above? Some for an unattainable object, every step towards which is marked by tears and blood, an ideal that can only be described in somewhat metaphysical rhetoric: the satisfaction of a conscience that has no relation to extrusive things of a supernal ambition, grandiose and dazzling into conscious determination, in its consistent effort towards the elusive goal, amazing in the unconsciousness with which it achieves results that would seem only possible to the most strenuous toil. Creation for the sake of creation. A far-seeing idealism sustains them, the hope that they will succeed in giving a new form of beauty.
Sometimes that which appears to them in their confident self-knowledge their greatest work, is recognised by the enlightened at last, and becomes an eternal possession, a lasting element in after generations of artists, in whose works it lives in another form, completed by a new achievement it passes into the artistic heritage of the nation and finally plays its part in national culture. Others fail, not that their self-knowledge is at fault, but that their talent or their intelligence falls short. Their numeric preponderance is so great that they completely crowd out the few, and the limited demand of the public for pictures is supplied almost exclusively by them. I suppose that to every thousand painters of one class, there is not more than one of the other. Imagine such a proportion in any other calling!
But the artist can mislead the public more easily than can a man of any other profession, for setting aside the affinity of the herd for all that is superficial, a sort of halo surrounds the painter; he profits by a number of institutions very able to favour mediocracy which gives a certain importance to the metier as such, and are readily turned to account by the adroit.
Foremost among these is the art exhibition, an institution of a thoroughly bourgeois nature, due to the senseless immensity of the artistic output, and the consequent urgency of showing regularly what has been accomplished in the year. This institution may be considered the most important artistic medium of our age.
It would have a certain appositeness as a shop in the grand style, arranged with a luxury befitting the wares. But this purpose, which seems to be included in the general scheme, is quite subsidiary, as may be seen from a glance at the sale statistics.
Artists acquiesce in the system, because if they held aloof their last means of expression would be denied them. This they want at least, to let their work be seen, and see it themselves, even among that of thousands, even for a few months, even under barbaric conditions. What becomes of it after the exhibition is indifferent to them. It is enough if a picture fulfills its purpose at the exhibition, attracts attention, is discussed by the critics, and perhaps, even - this culminating distinction! - receives a medal.
To secure these results in competition with the thousands who are bent on the same ends, it is above all things necessary that a picture should have certain qualities that distinguish it from the rest. If the artist is bold enough he makes it very large, or at all events very insistent, that it may strike the eye even if badly hung.
It is obvious that under such conditions the purpose achieved by competition in other domains - that of promoting the selection of the best - can never be fulfilled. A variety of base impulses, which always urge on the compact majority against the loftier individuality, play their part in the results. Rarely, indeed, has a genius been brought to light through these channels. The greater artist avoids these exchanges and even the amateur does not frequent them, since quantity is not the only thing he craves.
Source: Julius Meier-Graefe, Modern Art, translated by F. Simmonds and G. W. Chrystal (Heinemann, 1908), pp. 5-9. First published in German in 1904.

31 Literature and Revolution

Leon Trotsky
The error of the ‘Lef’, at least of some of its theorists, appears to us in its most generalized form, when they make an ultimatum for the fusion of art with life. It is not to be argued that the separation of art from other aspects of social life was the result of the class structure of society, that the self-sufficient character of art is merely the reverse side of the fact that art became the property of the privileged classes, and that the evolution of art in the future will follow the path of a growing fusion with life, that is, with production, with popular holidays and with the collective group life. It is good that the ‘Lef’ understands this and explains it. But it is not good when they present a short-time ultimatum on the basis of the present-day art, when they say: leave your ‘lathe’ and fuse with life. In other words, the poets, the painters, the sculptors, the actors must cease to reflect, to depict, to write poems, to paint pictures, to carve sculptures, to speak before the footlights, but they must carry their art directly into life. But how, and where, and through what gates? Of course, one may hail every attempt to carry as much rhythm and sound and color as is possible into popular holidays and meetings and processions. But one must have a little historic vision, at least, to understand that between our present-day economic and cultural poverty and the time of the fusion of art with life, that is, between the time when life will reach such proportions that it will be entirely formed by art, more than one generation will have come and gone. Whether for good or for bad, the ‘lathe-like’ art will remain for many years more, and will be the instrument of the artistic and social development of the masses and their aesthetic enjoyment, and this is true not only of the art of painting, but of lyrics, novels, comedies, tragedies, sculpture and symphony. To reject art as a means of picturing and imaging knowledge because of one’s opposition to the contemplative and impressionistic bourgeois art of the last few decades, is to strike from the hands of the class which is building a new society its most important weapon. Art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes. But at present even the handling of a hammer is taught with the help of a mirror, a sensitive film which records all the movements. Photography and motion-picture photography, owing to their passive accuracy of depiction, are becoming important educational instruments in the field of labor. If one cannot get along without a mirror, even in shaving oneself, how can one reconstruct oneself or one’s life, without seeing oneself in the ‘mirror’ of literature? Of course no one speaks about an exact mirror. No one even thinks of asking the new literature to have a mirror-like impassivity. The deeper literature is, and the more it is imbued with the desire to shape life, the more significantly and dynamically it will be able to ‘picture’ life. [. . .]
In reply to criticisms against the ‘Lef’, which are often more insulting than convincing, the point is emphasized that the ‘Lef’ is still constantly seeking. Undoubtedly the ‘Lef’ seeks more than it has found. But this is not a sufficient reason why the Party cannot do that which is persistently recommended, and canonize the ‘Lef’ or even a definite wing of it, as ‘Communist art’. It is as impossible to canonize seekings as it is impossible to arm an army with an unrealized invention.
But does this mean that the ‘Lef’ stands absolutely on a false road, and that we can have nothing to do with it? No, it does not mean this. The situation is not that the Party has definite and fixed ideas on the question of art in the future, and that a certain group is sabotaging them. This is not the case at all. The Party has not, and cannot have, ready-made decisions on versification, on the evolution of the theater, on the renovation of the literary language, on architectural style, etc., just as in another field the Party has not and cannot have ready-made decisions on the best kind of fertilization, on the most correct organization of transport, and on the most perfect machine guns. But as regards machine guns and transportation and fertilization, the practical decisions are needed immediately. What does the Party do then? It assigns certain Party workers to the task of considering and mastering these problems, and it checks up these Party workers by the practical results of their achievements. In the field of art the question is both simpler and more complex. As far as the political use of art is concerned, or the impossibility of allowing such use by our enemies, the Party has sufficient experience, insight, decision and resource. But the actual development of art, and its struggle for new forms are not part of the Party’s tasks, nor are they its concern. The Party does not delegate anyone for such work. At the same...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Contents
  6. Introduction
  7. Introductory Texts
  8. Section One Modem Life, Modernité and Modernism
  9. Section Two The Development of Modernism
  10. Section Three Abstraction
  11. Section Four Expressionism
  12. Section Five Art and Society
  13. Index
Stili delle citazioni per Modern Art And Modernism

APA 6 Citation

Frascina, F. (2018). Modern Art And Modernism (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)

Chicago Citation

Frascina, Francis. (2018) 2018. Modern Art And Modernism. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Frascina, F. (2018) Modern Art And Modernism. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Frascina, Francis. Modern Art And Modernism. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2018. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.