The many masks of modern art
One of the most welcome things about much of the newer art emerging today is its freshness and exuberance, its crispness -- and the way it sparkles with life. Those who paint "realistically" do so without the anxieties and guilts of their elders, who often felt that to paint in that fashion was in some odd way a betrayal of their identity and authenticity as 20th-century creators. And those who paint in any of the "nonrepresentation" modes do so with a directness and verve seldom seen since the late 1950s.Skip to next paragraph
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Although there is a great deal of complaining going on in critical and curatorial circles about the confusion art seems to be in today -- and a great deal of envious finger-pointing to the glories of the recent past --simply that painting is slowly shaking itself free from the extraordinarily heady experience of living through almost a century of modernism, and is rather nervously awakening to the first glimmerings of a new period in art.
Modernism, quite simply, has been a nighttime and essentially interior experience, one full of dreams (and nightmares), ideals, and absolutes, with more than its share of demons and saints, dogmas, damnations, and salvations. Its greatest moments, Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Expressionism, Surrealism , Neo-Plasticism, Abstract-Expressionism, Conceptualism, etc., have all been creatures of the mind and of our interior sensibilities, products of a collective creative will that sought its truths with eyes shut -- except for the sideways glance to see what the other fellow was doing.
After the bright and sunny noontime of Impressionism, and the late afternoon glow of Cezanne and Van Gogh, painting withdrew into the shade of evening, and then into the deepest realities of the night. Edvard Munch cried out for all of us, with the terror born of new and only partly understood perceptions, and his cry haunted us and haunted our art until it lost itself somewhere in the passions and the dramatic wilds of Abstract-Expressionism.
Now I realize that this reading of recent art history suggests an oversimplification, that by emphasizing modernism's emotional content rather than its structurally innovative and highly formal nature, I appear to be viewing the art of this century in the light of its occasional tendency toward hysteria rather than in the light of its brilliances and extraordinary originality. And that, as a result, I ignore, and possibly even deny, the large bulk of what constitutes its genius.
That is not my intention. My sense of awe at what this century has produced in the way of original and innovative art remains as great as ever. In fact I suspect that the art of this century will fertilize the art of the future in ways we cannot as yet imagine.What I would like to point out, however, is that we are delaying the advance of that art by our continuing preoccupations with the "how" and "what" of art -- its mechanics --and by not paying sufficient attention to its "why" -- its primary reasons for being. And by our insistence that art be played according to the rules set up by previous generations rather than according to the artists' intuitions and insights.
It should be fairly obvious by now that much of today's most highly regarded art shows increasing symptoms of being little more than the recycled art of 5, 10 or 20 years ago; that it is caught in a rut, and that with very few exceptions it is, like a phonograph record whose needle is stuck, going around, and around, and around. . . .