Post #1177 • May 13, 2008, 3:04 PM • 348 Comments
As noted on last week's Nihilism as mannersim thread, we might find it useful to declare a new modernism (caps are still being debated) that takes the important points of modernism forward and leaves the historical modernism with its trappings behind. Walter Darby Bannard has already written that modernism, above all, is a working attitude, first in 1984:
If Modernism and Postmodernism are unitary enough to characterize, I would suggest that it will he useful to see them as working attitudes. Modernism uses self-criticism to aim at and maintain high standards. Postmodernism asserts that these things are unnecessary for art. In spirit, Modernism is aspiring, authoritarian, hierarchical, self-critical, exclusive, vertically structured, and aims for the best. Postmodernism is aimless, anarchic, amorphous, self-indulgent, inclusive, horizontally structured and aims for the popular. Modernism is idealistic; Postmodernism is political. Each proceeds from and represents a side of human nature.
Then in 1989:
The word "Modernism" makes one think of recent art. But Modernism is an attitude, not a time. Western art has been "modernist" for hundreds of years, since the Renaissance, at least. Modernism is the attitude of the modern, any modern, of learning from any art of the past to bring what is new and fresh into present art. The emergence of sophisticated modelling, the invention of perspective, the development of tube paints and stretched canvas- all this is modernist evolution. Modernism is less something new than a way to recombine something old to make something better.
Modernism took a long time to become explicit.
And since then, including this from 2000:
Modernism, as a working attitude over the past century and a half, has insisted that a work of art be valued for itself rather than for it's usefulness toward another end. This is more-or-less what is meant by "Art for art's sake." It is characterized by a spirit of high aspiration for art value or "goodness" and is driven by an engine of internal self-criticism.
It's important to understand that art made now with a modernist attitude, a new modernist attitude, may or may not look like the art we associate with the historical Modern period. Modernism as we might use it today has five markers:
Visual quality. Modernists make visual art for visual reasons. Only the outcome is important; process is important only to the outcome. Things that look better are better than things that look worse. Visual quality is the only inherent function of art. Everything else is either a subsidiary function or a trait. Art needs no subsidiary functions, but it needs traits.
Self-criticism. As stated above, this drives the whole project. Self-criticism presupposes that ever-higher levels of visual quality are attainable and desirable.
Selective indifference to traits. Modernists reuse the helpful traits of past art and discard its unhelpful traits. This means all past art, from one's own most recent sketchbook doodle to ancient cave paintings. Whether something helps or not depends completely on circumstances at any given moment in the studio, according to the artist's being. Modernism presupposes that one can and ought to discard any given trait in one's work if it stands in the way of greater quality, or embrace it and use it if it clears the way to greater quality. It does not say that one need not make anything, or that any thing might be as good as any other thing, or that some kinds of things are better than other kinds. It is a concerted effort towards greater visual quality at the potential expense or to the possible glorification of any single trait.
Sincerity. The above activities done in an ironic way do not constitute a modernist attitude.
Practice trumps theory. Outcome is more important than principle. Product is more important than intentions. 75% purity is enough.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.