March 27, 2006

Modern Again and Again

I slipped an architectural undergraduate degree in place of where an art undergraduate degree is usually situated in the resume of today's artist. Possessing analytic and synthetic architectural (mental) bones is the obvious upshot... on the other hand, I had applied a do it yourself approach to garnering art school fundamentals. The fine points of art material handling technique aside (sat aside such as it is in most of today's art schools), I am (acutely?) aware of how I see the Modern differently from most other people.

So naturally, I perked up as I scanned the recent offering from Arts & Letters Daily, Robert Hughes brings us up to date on the evolution of the meaning of this heavily frieghted word here in the Guardian Unlimited:

Modernism is a weasel of a word, whose meanings slip and slide. They always have. Not that one should use "modernism" and "always" in the same sentence. Nobody talked or thought about modernism in the middle ages - the idea of a battle between "new" and "established" cultural forms was not an issue then. Now it has gone completely the other way. Nobody, or nobody with brains, assigns a missionary role to culture. The work of art is just one more consumer product among others.

(Hmmm... that last sentence bugs... if it is just one more goodie in the markeplace, it is at least one whose value as a consumer product is judged by an estimation of its' intrinsic value in light of an evolving art history... which makes it at least... exceptional... among other consumer products.)

I'm not exactly sure how Robert Hughes is regarded by the poohbah egg heads of our artworld today, but let this blogpost fly his flag high. The picture he presented in Shock of the New meshed very well with the one presented in my architectural history classes and I have yet to encounter a serious alternative history of the emergence of the modern that punches at his wieght. (If you know of one, dear blog reader, please tell me! I'd like to know of it.) Reading his Barcelona upon our arrival in Catalunya was critical for a deeper understanding of Gaudi and Catalan culture. I'm a fan.

Years ago, first in art grad school and later as I taught archtiecture, that people were generally unable to supply a cogent general definition of the Modern, and therefore much, much less the PostModern. How should anyone be allowed to pontificate on PoMo when Mo is too fuzzy to describe? Allow me to tame the weasel with (my) definition of the Modern:

To be Modern is to reconcile the things one makes with the life one is living.

Caveat: This blogpost is dangerous for me since a full treatment on the subject of the Modern compells a hefty essay with swift currents that will draw me towards months of writing. I respect writing so much that I acknowledge that my work here in this blog to be more akin to scribbling, jots and notes made in haste, not even a journal, less than a diary. So with this escape clause in hand, please allow a series of bullet points to dress out this subject, so I can properly get back to painting:

-The Modern Age was ushered in with the acceleration of technological change in the early 19th to 20th centuries. The crisis for creative folk was to contend with this change, to deal with: the stress of it, to accomodate the new artifacts that were/are reordering life, to give form to revolution in its many manifestations, to explore the consequences of change in the excitement of its' thrall, to manage the dangers of it as well...

-Technological change spreads ripples of social change in it's wake. Therefore: friction is normal in Modern life. The ability to adapt successfully to change is critical for our survival.

-Technology is related of course to science and science rests on an absolute freedom of inquiry. Freedom is therefore an absolute value and individualism is a core concept. The ability or willingness to isolate an individual from its' context is essential for science and technology... we should also be mindful to this as a blind spot in our worldview: our ability to forget how things go together.

-When the Modern was born (and I'm thinking of Shattuck's The Banquet Years) the distinctions we make between the Modern and Post Modern not only did not exist then, but each was implicit and explicit in turn. Chris Burden and Paul McCarthy are sons of Alfred Jarry's pistol shot.


Chris Jagers weighs in:


You may already know these books/essays, but I thought I would offer them up in regard to your recent (difficult) topic

Kirk Varnedoe's "A Fine Disregard"
Ive Allen Bois "Painting as Model"
Dave Hickey "Prom Night in Flatland" essay

Good luck with your quest. I'm not sure a clean version of history could ever really exist however. MOMA tries to do it, and it always bothers me.


Yes of course! I agree that a clean version, like utopia, is impossible and perhaps undesireable. Although, I've always sought a way to express what I see from my vantage point, as a way to say: this is what this looks like, do you have another? Shake me up. Show me another view.

Chris' recent blogpost "Flamenco" is another take on Modernity as "Modernismo". A snip from his snip:

"Flamenco is fundametally a solo form, a structured is both traditional and personal, but above all, distilled - brief and heroic, like a speech by someone in the Iliad who is about to die."

Our age of the anti-hero might frown on this, but I still value structured improvisation as I hope you might see in my paintings... A mix of the traditional and personal could be thought of as an embodiment of this blog... I think the Iliad rocks (I'm getting jazzy here, sorry).... and in a way, paintings and this blog too, are messages in a bottle for generations after ours.

?Como no?

Posted by Dennis at March 27, 2006 10:59 AM

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