Who Shapes Art: In 1908: Monet; in 1998, Disney Popular Culture, Now Shaped by Television and Movies, Once Meant 'Finer Things.'; BRING ON CYBERART

By Gloria Goodale Arts and culture correspondent ofThe Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 1998 | Go to article overview

Who Shapes Art: In 1908: Monet; in 1998, Disney Popular Culture, Now Shaped by Television and Movies, Once Meant 'Finer Things.'; BRING ON CYBERART


Gloria Goodale Arts and culture correspondent ofThe Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Nov. 24 - Turn off your television, take off your headphones, put down your CD player.

Ever wonder what folks did for entertainment (or, gasp, edification) before all that technology? In honor of 90 years of continual reporting on the cultural life of what Henry Luce in 1941 called "the American Century," the Monitor is taking a step back across the decades to appreciate, if just for a moment, some of the stories from the arts and entertainment world that led up to the chapter we're living today.

However, in deference to the multi-media environment expect-ed of our time, a sound track is included. CUE: "The Maple Leaf Rag," Scott Joplin's seminal composition, published in 1899. Ragtime was the nation's first "pop" music. FADE IN: February, 1913. New York City's Armory Show, in which Cubism arrives on the American art scene. Dubbed by art historians, the most important art event in American history, paintings by such artists as Pablo Picasso and Marcel DuChamp shocked the 80,000 visitors who flocked to the controversial show. This exhibition can be seen as the art world's official announcement that this century demanded a new way of looking at reality, a "modernist" outlook that included a willingness to use whatever materials that such a new vision might require. These ideas gave birth to Picasso's space-fragmenting cubist masterpiece "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," and Marcel DuChamp's "Bicycle Wheel," a "found object" triumph in which an actual wheel was mounted as sculpture for viewers to touch and move. Of course, the roots for this liberation from conventional realism came from deep in the previous century, with important predecessors such as Impressionist Claude Monet (his late "Water-Lilies" series, in particular). The French painter opened the way to a new abstraction which in many ways heralded everything from architect Frank Lloyd Wright's New York City landmark, the Guggenheim Museum, to the Abstract Expressionist drip paintings of a Jackson Pollock, the musical reductivism of a John Cage and ultimately, the digital internet art of a Friederike Paetzold of today. The Armory show also pre-shadowed another significant event of 20th century American cultural life - the post World War II rise of the mass-media. Before the World War I, the automobile, or airplanes, the new middle classes, spawned by the industrial revolution, began to find themselves with time and money to spend on art. In this era, before consumerism and technology created a global entertainment culture, what is now called "high art" (symphonies, museums, ballet) was considered mainstream, popular art. After the World War II, that began to change. As returning soldiers settled with their families, pursuit of the American Dream began to drive a merchandising bonanza. Soon, TV and film spread American fads around the world. An entertainment-oriented culture, particularly films and fashion, occasionally drew from the fine arts; but the entertainment culture essential overshadowed fine arts, and began to dominate. This phenomenon has reached an apotheosis in today's vast media conglomerates, such as Disney or Time-Warner. Indeed, Disney's flimsy cartoon fable ("Beauty and the Beast") gave birth to a lavish stage production. In turn, that begat several sequels to the original story, based on a multi-million dollar merchandising strategy. All this is certainly a late 20th century phenomenon quite foreign to the sorts of diversions enjoyed by folks at the dawn of this century. Those audiences were, however, getting some hints of the future. At the same time the Armory Show had New Yorkers up in arms, Parisians were enjoying a glimpse of the modernist winds blowing down the century as ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky kicked up a storm in Paris. CUE: Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," music for the ballet which premiered May 29, 1913. The athletic Nijinsky may have jumped higher and hovered longer than any dancer before him, but it was his raw sexuality that, according to accounts of the day, sparked fist fights and even duels in the aisles during the ballet premier. …

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