Who’s Afraid of Modern Art? by Daniel Siedell

Chapter Six: “The Poetics of Modern Art” (all quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book)

Modern Art Book CoverQuote

“For Modernism is but a logical consequence – compression and concision – of things classical.”

“No one absorbs the past as thoroughly as a poet, if only out of fear of inventing the already invented.” Joseph Brodsky, p124

“Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief. Modernism…includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences, were becoming ill-fitted to their tasks and outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world…In this spirit, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, atonal (or pantonal) and twelve-tone music, divisionist painting and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th Century.” Wikipedia

“…modernism and modern art can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution, a period that lasted from the 18th to the 19th century, in which rapid changes in manufacturing, transportation, and technology profoundly affected the social, economic, and cultural conditions of life in Western Europe, Northern America, and eventually the world. New forms of transportation, including the railroad, the steam engine, and he subway changed the way people lived, worked, and traveled, both at home and abroad, expanding their worldview and access to new ideas. As urban centers prospered, workers flocked to cities for industrial jobs, and urban populations boomed. Prior to the 19th century, artists were most often commissioned to make artwork by wealthy patrons, or institutions like the church. Much of this art depicted religious or mythological scenes that told stories and were intended to instruct the viewer…many artists started to make art about people, places, or ideas that interested them, and of which they had direct experience. With the …popularization of the idea of a subconscious mind, many artists began exploring dreams, symbolism, and personal iconography as avenues for the depiction of their subjective experiences. Challenging the notion that art must realistically depict the world, some artists experimented with the expressive use of color, non-traditional materials, and new techniques and mediums. One of these was photography, whose invention in the 1830s introduced a new method for depicting and reinterpreting the world.” MoMA website

Question How is Modernism a logical consequence of the past?


“The relationship of the modern artist to the past begins, ironically, with the experience of rupture and loss, with an intuition of the deep discontinuity between the past and the present, the recognition that artistic depictions of angels and cherubs, nymphs, maidens, and martyrs, which were appropriate responses to a past age. But what is now required are new artistic forms that come from experience of the present. This approach contradicted the nineteenth-century academic establishment, which saw the art of the past as an ideal that normed all art and that demanded emulation of technique and subject matter that simply needed to be passed on to another generation. For the modern artist, however, art was, and is, not merely the transmission of technique and subject matter, form and content – it also consists of the artist’s own sensibility, which necessarily includes an attunement to the age in which one lines.” p128