Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology


Modern Art and Modernism offers firsthand material for the study of issues central to the development of modern art, its theory, and criticism. The history of modern art is not simply a history of works of art, it is also a history of ideas interpretations. The works of critics and theorists have not merely been influential in deciding how modern art is to be seen and understood, they have also influenced the course it has taken. The nature of modern art cannot be understood without some analysis of the concept of Modernism itself. Modern Art and Modernism presents a selection of texts by the major contributors to debate on this subject, from Baudelaire and Zola in the nineteenth century to Greenberg and T. J. Clark in our own times. It offers a balanced section of essays by contributors to the mainstream of Modernist criticism, representative examples of writing on the themes of abstraction and expression in modern art, and a number of important contributions to the discussion of aesthetics and the social role of the artist. Several of theseare made available in English translation for the first time, and others are brought together from a wide range of periodicals and specialized collections. This book will provide an invaluable resource for teachers and students of modern art, art history, and aesthetics, as well as for general readers interested in the place of modern art in culture and history.


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 . . .

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