Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky

By Moshe Barasch | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the present volume I shall discuss theories of art that emerged and flourished over the relatively short period of roughly four decades. In general, a marked continuity is characteristic of the theory of art; the heritage of the past lives for a long time. The demarcation of such a brief period in the field's history, therefore, calls for an explanation.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, artists and critics, now largely detached from their traditional social and cultural frameworks, have been fully exposed to the quickening pace of general intellectual change. Moreover, as other intellectual disciplines became increasingly concerned with art, they discovered, and often shed light on, new and often surprising aspects of artifacts created in many periods and cultures. Because of the diversification of the interests of artists and critics, their interaction with scientists and scholars in other disciplines, if indirect, increased sharply. One of the results of this versatile and complex process was that art theory, in earlier stages of history perceived as a more or less distinct discipline with a common structure and well defined subject matter, became obscured, its outlines were blurred, and its structure equivocal. On the other hand, however, reflection on the problems of art witnessed an outburst of original creativity which often broke up the time-honored patterns of thinking on the subject. In surveying these decades we necessarily ask ourselves what, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, can still be perceived as art theory? To whom would such a theory be addressed, and whom was it meant to serve?

This apparently chaotic appearance of reflection on art does not surprise the student. Not only has the quickening of pace, so characteristic of the modern world in general, contributed to this development, but there were also more specific reasons that should be outlined. Differing from what we know from earlier ages, these reasons perhaps also warrant us in distinguishing a “period” that extends over merely a few decades. The basic conditions within which art theory evolved (and within which we can fol

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