Abstract convention

There is an increasing number of observations demonstrating something of the emerging of common sense about the established art history of the last century, as found in an article on the website of ‘The Smart Set’:


20th-century modernism marked the transition from a world of regional civilizational artistic traditions to the bright, shiny, new, universal society of airports, hotels, and office buildings which are the same everywhere on the planet, with the same color-blob paintings in the lobbies and corridors and the same metal tripod or other abstract sculpture out front.

Ironically, an artistic movement (in all the arts, and in architecture) that began as a vehement protest against convention and tradition, has ended in the swamp of the most superficial convention imaginable.

The idea of the superior genius artist who had the gifts and the authority to transgress existing boundaries of art forms, is a myth emerging in the 19th century, mainly in the context of German romanticism. In music, it was the myth of Beethoven as the destroyer of old forms, establishing new forms entirely his own, thereby ‘showing the way’ to future developments of music. In reality, Beethoven kept to the formal and expressive principles of the art form, only re-establishing them differently and often on a grander scale. All 19C composers who have been labelled revolutionary, rebelling against convention, as a kind of fore-runners of 20C modernism, kept to the important formal and expressive elements that define the art form without destroying it, knowing that doing so would diminish their capacities of invention and expression, and of communication. Only in the very late piano works of Liszt there is a dissolving of fundamentals, and however interesting the results, the pieces are short, and depict something that is dissolving and dying, a narrow aesthetic and emotional range that would be further explored by Schoenberg untill also he reached the point where the art form finally disintegrated as music and something new came into being (opus 23). And comparable developments can be seen in the visual arts.



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