Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Modern Art

MacLeod’s article was helpful for me in straightening out the major modernist artistic movements, since I was only really aware of a few. I also liked how he made some direct comparisons with major poets and writers (Williams, Stevens, etc), so I got a better idea of how the art and literature of this period interacted (usually they seemed to just be treated as parallel, other than with the more obvious Stein-Picasso connection). I was glad to be able to associate the writers we’re reading with more specific artists, though I wondered why the influence of the wars on art wasn’t explored more (other than in relation to the Dadas). This mainly occurred to me while reading Clive Bell’s “The Artistic Problem,” in which he describes works of art as being “beautiful in themselves” (102). This seemed to me like an almost more Romantic approach to art, and didn’t seem a definition that would work with artists such as Otto Dix (or even necessarily with earlier artists such as Goya), whose wartime influences resulted in some very dark, grotesque works (though he may have, like Fry, just defined beauty differently, wasn’t sure from that essay). But MacLeod’s reference to Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” in particular drew my attention to the similarities of her idea of the “imaginary gardens with real toads” with the Bloomsbury group’s promotion of modern art, particularly when Desmond MacCarthy writes “that a good rocking-horse often has more of the true horse about it than an instantaneous photograph of a Derby winner” (99).

The other issue that interested me in these readings was the issue of the Bloomsbury Group’s approach to art and criticism. Going with that idea of the group as a subculture rather than a utopian ideal, I started to wonder more about whether they were basically the “hipsters” of their times (which had been hard to conceive of before, given how they usually seem to portrayed now in films such as Tom & Viv as such a privileged, leisurely class, or in criticism in general as more canonical, rather than contemporary, writers), since with Bell’s “by ‘we’ I mean intelligent people under sixty” remark (102) it certainly seemed like this would be a label they might get if they were around today, whether justifiably or not, through such interest in contemporary art and the assumption of being part of a more educated, youth-oriented class of people. I also began to wonder about this group’s approach to criticism in relation to T.S. Eliot’s, so I was surprised to find that they seemed to have more in common than I thought they would, particularly in parts of Fry’s work, since I had thought of them as being so philosophically opposed. Though there seemed to be a greater emphasis on the importance of emotion for the Bloomsbury writers, there still seemed to be that same interest in form and envisioning artistic creation in more scientific terms, with Bell still emphasizing the importance of work and a sense of detachment in creating art (104-105), and the assumption that artistic tradition is something that must be internalized and reinterpreted to suit modern concerns rather than simply copied (105-106), ideas echoed in Fry (400) while he also acknowledged how criticism was influenced by personal experiences (398), and even while emphasizing the emotional content of art still seemed to agree at least somewhat with Eliot’s emphasis on detachment (403), since his interest in the Post-Impressionists seemed to be in the sense that they gave more control and order to Impressionistic concerns.

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