16th April 2013
I think it was Walt Whitman who ushered in the age of modernism in art when he wrote about all things having the same level of beauty and should be portrayed with the same degree of reverence. The artistic community took up the challenge to portray this sentiment, in my opinion, as a backlash against the establishment and the pendulum now swung further away from the established order and their stranglehold on acceptable subject matter and portrayal, started by ‘The Impressionist’ movement, and was now fully released to express itself in all its glory, and even more so in post-modernism.
But has the pendulum reached the end of its arc?
The reason that ‘The Impressionists’ were able to establish themselves as a force was due to the very restricted views of the established order of the art world in their time, preventing anyone from emerging from the art educational system unless they followed the narrow view of how any image should be presented. And once the fetters were released the rebellion swelled and eventually turned into the ‘Modern’ movement and then into ‘Post-Modern’ with a fervour that has become, in my opinion, as dogmatic in its restrictive interpretations of the beauty of art as the establishment that spawned the ‘The Impressionists’.
I’m not sure if I’m alone in my reasoning, I don’t think I am totally out of line with a lot of students anyway, when I say that traditional pastoral beauty is no longer considered an acceptable genre for modern-day art. This strikes me as complete madness. Everywhere you look the most pleasing views aren’t normally the man-made scenes but those created by nature itself, be that pastoral or classical. Even those wedded to ‘modern art’ wouldn’t want to spend their entire lives surrounded by man-made constructs of art, surely? So why is it then that a dogmatic approach of ‘no it’s not acceptable in art, it’s an image of natural beauty’ apparently being espoused by the establishment?
I accept the fact that a beautiful natural scene can only be depicted so many times and from so many perspectives when photographed, and that it can only be, and always will be whatever it is an image of, and that a modern-art image can be of anything and has many interpretations. But does that make it beautiful just because it can have many interpretations? Of course not, it can make it interesting, and just as the natural beauty can become boring from repetition, so to my mind modern-art is also becoming through repetition. I seem to remember a quotation, from who I can’t remember, that goes ‘everything that can be photographed has already been photographed ad so we now look for different perspectives’. And that was only ten years after the invention of photography!
Can the pendulum not be allowed to swing back the other way now, not to the extreme but to some mid-point where all forms of artistic beauty can be accepted by the establishment as being progressive?