Page 5 - summer 22
P. 5


            Part One: Culture
               •  Modernism and the shock of the new
             Picasso, Kandisky,  Schoenberg, Joyce, Eliot, Le Corbusier, Eisenstein

            In our recent sessions, we have been looking at how people in the last three
            centuries thought and felt about the fact they were “making the modern world”. By

            1900 it was becoming clear that the  new urban world of industry and technology
            with its burgeoning machines and startling cityscapes was different to any previous
            age; and the difference was speed. This began with the Industrial Revolution, which
            increased the speed of production. Then 19  century railways and steamships
            revolutionised travel and transport, while the telegraph revolutionised the speed of
            information. By 1900. Cityscapes like London and Paris presented a dazzling,

            fragmented  kaleidoscope of simultaneous images and sense impressions;
            pedestrians, crowds, traffic,  advertisements.  The speed of urban living was dizzying
            and accelerating;  electricity arrived, then telephones, cars, aeroplanes, films and

            To understand what people made of the new century, we must first turn to the
            artists. How would they react to all this innovation and speed? When the industrial
            revolution first began, the initial response of artists was negative: the 19  century
            Romantics sought escape into a medieval fantasy world of emotion and imagination.
            Then, by contrast, the later 19  century Realists sought to represent the new
            industrial civilisation as accurately as possible; thus, in War and Peace Tolstoy
            portrayed battle in all its horrors, while Gustav Courbet, as Cathy Knight showed us
            last year, painted street workmen and a carriage trapped in snow. But artists and
            writers of the new generation of 1900 - Picasso, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Schoenberg -
            wanted neither to escape from this new world, nor to simply represent it accurately,

            but to capture and render its inner essence. To do this, they had to abandon the old
            artistic conventions and to turn instead to the innovation of the avant-garde.

            The artistic revolution of Modernism was not planned, nor did it follow any
            philosopher or critic - it just so happened that in a dozen or so years, in one art form
            after another - first painting, then poetry, music, novels and finally architecture - the
            centuries-old conventions were consigned to the bonfire, in a series of works that
            became the foundational classics of the Modernist movement.
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