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Introduction: And Now for Something Completely Different

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

David W. Galenson
Affiliation:
University of Chicago
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Summary

WE DECLARE:…

That the name of “madman” with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should be looked upon as a title of honor.

Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla, and Gino Severini, Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, 1910

The title immortalized by Monty Python has three distinct meanings in the present context. Most generally, it is a remarkably apt description of the history of visual art in the twentieth century. Innovation has always been the distinguishing feature of important art, but the need for innovation to be conspicuous is a particular hallmark of the modern era, and the pace of change has accelerated within that era. For example the critic Clement Greenberg observed in 1968 that “Until the middle of the last century innovation in Western art had not had to be startling or upsetting; since then…it has had to be that.” Only a year earlier, a critic of very different sensibility, Lucy Lippard, wrote that “Today movements are just that; they have no time to stagnate before they are replaced…Younger critics and artists have matured in a period accustomed to rapid change.” The twentieth century witnessed artistic changes that had no precedent in the history of our civilization, and it is now time to recognize the century as the Age of Something Completely Different.

The Monty Python effect also neatly characterizes a new model of artistic behavior that was invented early in the twentieth century, and went on to thrive over time.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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