Modern Italian Painting: From Futurism to the Present Day

Modern Italian Painting: From Futurism to the Present Day

Modern Italian Painting: From Futurism to the Present Day

Modern Italian Painting: From Futurism to the Present Day

Excerpt

The development of modern painting has been governed by one thing only: the effort to integrate new myths and idioms with the constant aim of all art -- lyricism. In all ages there has been the pursuit of lyricism, but the outstanding feature of our own age has been the rapid rise, decline and fall of successive idioms and creeds, all prompted by the feeling that our restless search for an "absolute", combined with our newly won freedom, should produce an art of pristine purity. Formulas and programmes, however, by no means always produce great pictures, and often are significant only in so far as they are symptoms of, or contribute to, the cultural ethos of the time, or if they reveal intellectual vigour. Moreover, a pictorial idiom shared by a group of painters is not necessarily the outcome of a formula but of a whole complex civilization. A typical example of this is French Impressionism.

In Italy, ever since the battle over Futurism, the best painters have been aware of the various idioms in Europe, but as an indirect stimulus only. Groups have existed in Italy, of course, but they have been the exception. Moreover, there has been no widespread educated market to give Italian painting international status. The efforts of an occasional dealer and a few collectors, mainly in northern Italy, have helped, but it is only since the war that a really lively market has grown up to give Italian painters fresh stimulus and opportunity.

As a result of this, modern Italian painting shows a divorce between local or provincial forms of expression and the European idiom generally, a divorce of which Italian artists have been keenly aware, knowing as they do that a pictorial idiom is not born in isolation. Whether or not an artist thinks that he is free and independent, he is really subject to the cultural pressures that surround him. A culture may be tired and capable of offering only tired formulas, but an artist has to be aware of it; he has to be able to weigh it up for himself, preferably in the light of international competition.

But here a false myth may well arise -- namely, that if you belong to an avant-garde culture you thereby avoid provincialism. In fact, a tired kind of provincialism can emerge even when formulas are a hundred per cent European -- when inner compulsion, personal "involvement" and a deep, genuine response to life are lacking (and when this happens art falls into academicism). For the last fifty years Italian painting has swung on a pendulum between provincialism and internationalism, sometimes with a gulf between them and sometimes -- in the case of outstanding painters -- integrated, without any loss to local tradition. In fact, contact with Europe as a whole has served the purpose of goading artists on to new achievements precisely by encouraging the individual voice, even when its accent is dialect. This has happened with every genuine artist, even the most European ones. Picasso, for all the complexity of his idioms, has been inspired more than once by local Catalan tradition, without any direct imitation in style. He owes his success as a painter to Paris, where he has lived out his most vital experiences from Impressionism to Cubism and Expressionism, and yet his personality remains Spanish throughout. Guernica fulfils in a new way an ancient and forgotten Catalan tradition. Kandinsky remains a Russian even at his most abstract -- we see icons and the popular traditions of his country in his allusive rhythms; while Chagall, the Parisian, recalls Russia no less, with his melancholy idylls and peculiar Jewish bitterness.

Many other examples come to the mind. But nowadays regional traditions tend to have an indirect influence only, for artists usually live in cities and lead complicated lives, and in Italy many of them have fallen for a new academicism. Others, however, stimulated by local tradition, still produce painting with a genuine and individual accent. So, to sum up, the development of modern . . .

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