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Modern, Modernism, Modernist

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Intro to Modernism for 2nd Year Art & Design students at Edinburgh College of Art.

Intro to Modernism for 2nd Year Art & Design students at Edinburgh College of Art.

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  • Anti-historical – people have always been modern. How can we say that some are more ‘modern’ than others? To be modern is simply to be of your own time.
  • Anti-historical – artists have always been modern. How can we say that some are more ‘modern’ than others? To be modern is simply to be of your own time.
  • Modern-ism is simply a response to the modern, an art that engages with the now rather than with the past.Modernism is a set of beliefs about modern culture.It is an ideology.Just as there are many different ideas of what constitutes ‘the modern’ – so there is more than one kind of modernism.
  • A modernist ideology is the culture in which we are emersed.It seems to us to be natural but is in fact the result of hidden forces. – Marx
  • Freud, like Marx, also argued that the forces shaping the modern world were hidden.Characteristic of modernists to do this – to claim that they source of culture is hidden and that they hold the key to decoding it.
  • Modernists set out to explain the world and to change it according to their own terms.Modernisms therefore might be different but are related by family resemblence.
  • Pro-modernity – Bertelli’s sculpture celebrates:Rule of order in a world of chaos – (fascism united industrialists and would-be dictators)Speed – AVANT GARDE – pioneering world visionaries – modernism as an eltist doctrineMachines (machine aesthetic)This work is indication that modernists can be formally and intellectually radical while holding reactionary political beliefs.
  • Pro-modern world also….ConstructivismUltimately constrained by conditions of the Soviet economy and the wishes of the politburo
  • Eames worked for the US – made splints for soldiers.This was the basis of much of their domestic work – Cold War sparked lots of research and development - Modernism in this sense grew post war, inter-war modernism in Europe was based on working with bankrupt economies (much like situation we are in now).
  • Domestic was a battleground for modernists – desire to improve people’s everyday lives.CIAM and Corbusier – ‘Architecture or Revolution’ = design would prevent adopting the extremes of Communism or Fascism.Corbusier’s house celebrates a world of petrol power – based around the turning circle of a car and designed to resemble a ship. {perhaps this is not so modern now that we have fallen out of love with oil}in France the success of Corbusier was ruthlesslesslysatirised in the films of Jacques Tati. {Maybe we’d now think of this film as being of our time in its satire of all things novel).
  • MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH But perhaps both Communism and Fascism were not so different – both adopted a fascination with new technology.Thus we might think of modernism as offering a critique of the modern world.Creation of railway time in C19th led to the standarisation of time into units that could be sold =Start of wage labour.Chaplin’s flm Modern Times looks at this phenomenon. Aided by corrupt unions and ganstersFordism (Henry Ford) or Taylorism was becoming commonplace in the USA.Meanwhile the USSR was also implementing a state run version of Fordism using violence and intimidation.So modernism might focus on the way in which modern life alienates people – for example through mechanisinglabour.
  • MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH Modern life is controlled and regimented – language is used to centralise and manipulate.Orwell is deeply skeptical about the forces of modern enlightenment.
  • MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH Modernists are often disenchanted. See the world as an intert lump with no shape or meaning – need for re-enchantment of the world but modernists don’t always have the cures, just the diagnoses.T.S. Eliot’s poem was written using the voices of several different speakers who talk about of despair, an inability to love and a lack of spirituality. This long poem is made of fragments which seem unconnected, partially as a result of the various speakers.Could be a disenchantment with the vulgar – with the process of democracy.
  • Use of montage – in both cases this is political. a radical questioning of the process of representation Picasso newspapers report trouble in the Balkans - this would lead to the WW1.Use of montage is way of putting isolated images in context and of intensifying their impact through juxtaposition.Resembles factory line – fast pace, mechanical.Battle between forces of order and forces of chaos (not sure who is on what side!)
  • Need to escape from this tyranny…..One of the most prominent literary figures of the twentieth century, Woolf is widely admired for her technical innovations in the novel, most notably her development of stream-of-consciousness narrative. In To the Lighthouse (1927) Mixture of autobiographical elements, philosophical questions, and social concerns, To the Lighthouse is generally considered to be Woolf’s greatest fictional achievement.The novel is a modern form in the sense that it allowed the introduction of interiority – drama prevented this (sollioquay is the closest you get). This passage from Chapter 17 “The Window” is very subjective – seen from Mrs Ramsey’s perspective – we get to access her desire for some sense of tranquilty, of order.It’s significant here that we see things from a woman’s perspective – women were gaining access to power. Woolf offers up a different type of subjectivity and an alternative to the rationalist world view that dominates much (male) modernism.Chapter XVII of “The Window” is, in many respects, the heart of the novel. In Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner party, we see the rhythmic movement from chaos to order, from obscurity to clarity of vision, through which the novel progresses. The dinner party begins, to Mrs. Ramsay’s mind, as something of a disaster. Not all of the guests have arrived (Paul and Minta, for instance, have yet to return from the beach with Andrew and Nancy); Charles Tansley makes hostile comments to Lily; Augustus Carmichael offends his host by asking for a second plate of soup. Soon enough, however, as darkness descends outside and the candles are lit, the evening rights itself. Everyone is content, as Mrs. Ramsay intends, and everyone will remember the evening as beautiful and right. This passage describes these rare, priceless moments, which take on a kind of psychological permanence. The guests will remember this evening and will experience, with inexorable nostalgia, peace, and rest. In a world in which struggle and destruction are inevitable, the possibility for such domestic respite provides great comfort.
  • Another way of reaction to the modern world is to pretend that it’s not really there.Reject the world and attempt to re-discover your self – private sensations that are peculiar to each individual.The interior is as real as any other reality – (Cartesian)This forces many modernists, such as Woolf, to pursue the interior. the alignment with Freud’s discoveries of the primacy of the unconscious In Surrealism this is taken to be …… Deliberately meaningless.This is an extension of the Renaissance idea of the individual (egocentrism).The problem with this approach to the modern world is that it leads to solipsism – to a selfishness.There is a need for some kind of external moral standards – without this there is no basis for society and thus no basis for the self. (man is a political animal)So there is still, in modernism, a quest for these standards:1. Look for the standards in the spiritual – reject the modern world.
  • Another version of the retreat theory – retreat to a place that is not obviously modern.Franz Marc: „BlauesPpny I“, 1911Johannes Itten in his studio at the Bauhaus in its Expressionist periodFocus on the irrational – world soupVitalism is the guiding principle here – the instinct rules.Since modernists might be said to share a focus on the idea of the unseen – it makes some sense to pursue mythology. All that we know is determined by a hidden principle that can be unravelled only by the modernist. Nothing is as it appears. Mysticism is a route to our supposed ‘real’ existence – one that is subsumed beneath our civilised lives.This connects modernism with magic and shamanism – attempt to fill the vacuum left by the demise of religion leads to the rise of new religions such as Rosicrucianism and Theosophy.
  • Problem with this is that, as I said to begin with, everyone is modern. You can’t escape it. Your ‘primitive’ is someone else’s cutting edge.Nostalgia of MudThe idea is also predicated on racist ideas such arrested development.e.g. Keith Haring and Grace JonesUntitled (body painting), 1984a huge crown and rubber jewelry designed by David Spada
  • Finally, another way of dealing with the modern world was to adopt it’s principles of specialisation and scientific rigor.This can be related to untilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill) – to the idea of making value objective and measured.This meant focusing on the structures and materials of cultural production.Start from scratch and build up a new set of universally valid laws governing making, reading, thinking, etc…….It is concerned with a GRAMMAR (later Itten – more concerned with rational approaches following the expressionist era)There is a pattern in events – world is not chaotic.A Platonic idealist world view.
  • Or for it….
  • Paul StrandChampioned the realism of the medium to create beauty from everyday life, and to make statements about the nature of photography, rather than about the world; Modernist photography often abstracted reality by eliminating social or spatial context; by using viewpoints that flattened pictorial space, acknowledging the flatness of the picture plane; and by emphasizing shape and tonal rendition in highlights and shadows as much as in the actual subject matter
  • Radical anti-humanism – abstract and impersonal.Functionalism (less is more). {{{{{Read Quote}}}}}}The objectivity of modernist design and architecture became a straightjacket – people were required to fit design rather than vice-versa. Modernist design as a kind of rationalism gone wrong – echoes of the problems of Fascism and Communism.
  • Also focus on the surface, on the stuff that paintings are made of. This is mixed with the irrational (to be lost in the painting).Dynamism.
  • Rhythmus 21 Germany 1921 Hans Richter An early, serious abstract animation composed solely of squares and rectangles that change shape. This was an attempt to apply musical principles to screen images – something that stems back to the aestheticism of the late c19th.Many modernists regarded music to be the highest art form since it was supposedly abstract.Properties of the film are what’s on show here – but there’s also an irrationalist side – rhythm is sensual.So in many cases we see the two sides of modernism:Rational/irrationalOrder/chaosAnti-humanist/Romantic Are combined. The modern world requires these contradictory responses since it’s complex and multifaceted.
  • Transcript

    • 1.
    • 2. Modern
    • 3. Modernism
    • 4. Modernist
    • 5. Modernist
    • 6. Modernists
    • 7. RenatoGiuseppe Bertelli, Continuous Profile (Head of Mussolini) (1933)
      Utopic
    • 8. El Lissitzky
      Poster for USSR Exhibition in Zürich
      (1929)
      Utopic
    • 9. Charles and Ray Eames
      Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair (1960)
      Utopic
    • 10. JacquesTati
      MonOncle(1958)
      Utopic
      Le Corbusier Villa Savoye(1927)
    • 11. Charles Chaplin Modern Times (1936)
      Dystopic
    • 12. George Orwell Nineteen Eighty Four (1948)
      Dystopic
    • 13. T.S. Eliot The Wasteland (1923)
      Dystopic
    • 14. Sergei Eisenstein
      October (1927)
      Pablo Picasso
      Glass and Bottle of Suze(1912)
      Order / Chaos
    • 15. It partook . . . of eternity . . . there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures.
      Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse, (1927)
      Order / Chaos
    • 16. René Magritte
      La Reproduction Interdite(1937)
      Jean Cocteau
      The Blood of a Poet (1930)
      Century of the Self
    • 17. Myth – Primitivism
    • 18. Myth – Primitivism
    • 19. Truth to Materials
    • 20. Herbert Bayer, Universal
      sans-serif typeface(1925)
      Truth to Materials
    • 21. Wire Wheel, New York, 1920
      Paul Strand
      Truth to Materials
    • 22. Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.
      Mies van derRohe
      Truth to Materials
    • 23. “When I'm painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It's only after a get acquainted period that I see what I've been about. I've no fears about making changes for the painting has a life of its own.”
      Jackson Pollock
      Truth to Materials
    • 24. Rhythmus 21 (1921)
      Hans Richter
      Truth to Materials