Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky

By Moshe Barasch | Go to book overview

17
Introduction
Conditions of Modern Primitivism

The student who attempts to investigate primitivism in nineteenth-century reflections on art is faced with a strange dilemma. Primitivism, as we know, is one of the oldest concepts of mankind, but at the same time it is conceived as a characteristic of the modern world and its art. How do we understand this apparent contradiction? And what precisely is primitivism anyhow?

One might expect primitivism to be simple and easy to grasp. In fact, however, few concepts in our vocabulary are more complex and intricate. The notion of “primitivism” calls for explanation at two different levels: at one level, it is an objective statement of fact, testimony to a concern with something that is seen as primitive. On the other, the concept suggests an intellectual or moral attitude to, or appreciation of, what is described as primitive, seeing it as superior to one's own condition and thus worthy of imitation. In fact, the term “primitivism,” particularly with this suffix, indicates that some features of the “primitive” have been appropriated or are deserving of imitation.

Primitivism, one should keep in mind, is typical of highly developed cultures (whatever the latter term may mean). In a learned and enlightening work, two American scholars, Arthur Lovejoy and George Boas, systematically distinguished between what they called “chronological” and “cultural” primitivism.1 “Chronological primitivism” looks for the primitive in the earliest stages of history; “cultural primitivism” looks for the primitive in cultures that differ from our own, regardless of their particular stage of history. Using this distinction we can say that to be a primitivist—whether in the “chronological” or “cultural” sense—one has to be aware that one's own world and culture differ from those considered primitive. It is only in developed societies, in cultures that have produced a rich reflective life of the mind, that we encounter such awareness, and hence also primitivism.

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Modern Theories of Art, 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Impressionism 9
  • 1: Introduction the Crisis of Realism 11
  • 2: Aesthetic Culture in the Literature of the Time 13
  • 3: Impressionism and the Philosophical Culture of the Time 24
  • 4: Science and Painting 34
  • 5: Impressionism Reflections on Style 45
  • 6: The Fragment as Art Form 69
  • Part II - Empathy 79
  • 7: Introduction an Empathy Tradition in the Theory of Art 81
  • 8: Gustav Fechner 84
  • 9: Charles Darwin the Science of Expression 93
  • 10: Robert Vischer 99
  • 11: Empathy Toward a Definition 109
  • 12: Wilhelm Dilthey 116
  • 13: Conrad Fiedler 122
  • 14: Adolf Hildebrand 133
  • 15: Alois Riegl 143
  • 16: Wilhelm Worringer Abstraction and Empathy 171
  • Part III - Discovering the Primitive 189
  • 17: Introduction Conditions of Modern Primitivism 191
  • 18: The Beginnings of Scholarly Study Gottfried Semper 199
  • 19: Discovering Prehistoric Art Early Questions and Explanations 210
  • 20: Understanding Distant Cultures the Case of Egypt 243
  • 21: Gauguin 262
  • 22: African Art 272
  • Part IV - Abstract Art 291
  • 23: Abstract Art Origins and Sources 293
  • 24: The Subject Matte of Abstract Painting 309
  • 25: Color 320
  • 26: Line 341
  • 27: Composition and Harmony 352
  • Bibliographical Essay 371
  • Name Index 383
  • Subject Index 386
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