Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

In giving this book the title of Modern Art and Modernism we mean to draw attention to the relationship between the art of the modern period and the forms of criticism which have been developed to interpret and explain it. Art does not develop independently of criticism. Such writers as Baudelaire, Fry and Greenberg have often been seen as influential figures who have helped to determine the course of art. It is hoped that this book will provide some material for consideration of the inter-relationship between art and ideas about art.

This anthology was originally compiled as a reader for an Open University course on Modern Art and Modernism: Manet to Pollock. The selection was therefore designed primarily to serve specific needs and interests in relation to other teaching material. This also helps to account for the five main headings under which the texts are grouped. It should be recognized that there is considerable overlap between them. The aim of the course is to consider the history of modern art in the light of the prevailing body of theory, which we identify as 'Modernism', and to test the explanatory power of this theory in the light of alternative forms of explanation and interpretation. In particular, the intention has been to examine both the circumstances under which modern art has been produced, and those under which critical theories and forms of interpretation have themselves been produced.

A work of criticism inevitably reflects a response at a particular historical moment and in the light of particular commitments and interests. Yet influential critical interpretations have often tended to establish the terms of reference for interpretation and appraisal during subsequent generations. In offering a selection of critical and theoretical texts covering the span of the modern period in art, we have hoped to encourage study of the historical and historically specific nature of debate about the meaning of art.

We have not attempted to produce a coherent selection or to map out a coherent development. The criticism of modern art has itself proceeded unevenly, and often in terms of the competition between different types of interpretation, expressing different interests, and variously connected to art itself. What we have attempted to do is to select some vivid and typical examples of Modernist criticism at different stages of its development ( Denis, Bell, Fry, Cheney, Greenberg), and also of types of art theory and criticism which stand outside this principal current, either because they derive from consciously opposed points of view ( Trotsky, Brecht, Benjamin), or because they represent the interests of movements outside the Modernist mainstream ( Tarabukin, Eluard), or by virtue of their roots in other methods and disciplines ( Goodman). Some of the typical examples of modern art criticism are typically opaque and confusing ( Worringer, Bahr, Rebay). That this does not seem to have counted against their authority and influence is in itself of interest. One issue which does seem to distinguish Modernist theories from those critical texts and methods which we have grouped under the heading of 'Art and Society', is that the issue of the class character of culture is seen as crucial in the latter, while it is generally not raised at all in the former.

Debate will continue about the meaning of art and about meaning in art. The issues at stake have their roots both in the history of art and in the history of art

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