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1 - The Back Story of Twentieth-Century Art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

David W. Galenson
Affiliation:
University of Chicago
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Summary

Making it New

What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definite way of expressing yourself.

Louise Bourgeois, 1988

It has long been recognized that innovation is the core value of modern art. In 1952, for example, the critic Harold Rosenberg could remark that “the only thing that counts for Modern Art is that a work shall be NEW.” The recognition of this association first arose roughly a century earlier. In 1855, Charles Baudelaire, the poet and critic who was one of the earliest prophets of modern art, observed that the growing acceptance of change in nineteenth-century society would inevitably have an impact on artists' practices. He reasoned that the widespread appreciation of the great economic benefits of technological change in industry would lead to a demand for visible progress in all spheres, including art. In a celebrated essay published in 1863, “The Painter of Modern Life,” Baudelaire proposed no less than a new “rational and historical theory of beauty,” that explained why artistic change must occur. He posited that although beauty did have “an eternal, invariant element,” it also had a “relative, circumstantial element,” that represented the contemporary – “the age, its fashions, its morals, its emotions.”

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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