The crazy race for the hazy future

The Latin term Modo. (From Wiktionary )
 only  recently  presently

Modus – only just
 Mode – fashion, style.

At the end of the sixth century, Cassiodorus, a Roman statesman, writer and librarian used the term ‘modernus’ in the sense of contemporary, but wanted to conserve the knowledge and ideas of antiquity. (Both Christianity and Plato/Aristotle etc).

The Venerable Bede, wrote of ‘moderni’ and ‘antiqui’ in the eighth century. He called his present times ‘Tempus modernum’. The term modernus came to have a negative connotation.

Alcuin of York, who thought of himself and his contemporaries as ‘insignificant people of the end of the world’ warned of the dangers of decay, which could herald the coming of the Antichrist. Only a return of moral renewal and the ways of the ancients could save the world.

Scholars in the 12th century, believing that the world was made in six days, began to conclude that the world was becoming old. There was a sense of doom and apocalypse.

William, the ageing abbot of Saint-Thierry, when told that King David, when he was old, ruled the kingdom from his bed, concluded that in those biblical times, the world was youthful and people had more strength and vitality that in his own times.

Also in the twelfth century, Bernard of Chartres wrote about the ‘antiqui’ and ‘moderni’, saying in essence that modern scholars were dwarves who could see farther, but only because they stood on the shoulders of giants.

In the early 17th Century, Rene Descartes argued for new ways of judging and seeking truth. He rejected the ancients . He accounted for things by mechanical explanations. He began ideas which laid the groundwork for the scientific method. He said ‘I think, therefore I am’ (Cogito ergo sum)

In the late 17th century. John Locke argued against Augustine and the church who said that man was inherently sinful. Locke said that man was essentially borne with a clean slate, or ‘tabula rasa’. He also suggested that the people had the right to overthrow their leaders. He broke out of the ‘sacred circle’.

Locke’s ideas went into the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ of the French Revolution of 1789. The declaration asserts that all men are equal and that there is no divine right of kings and no special privilege for the church. No mention, however, of the rights of Women or slaves.

The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 18th Century. The use of the steam engine in pumping water from mines was a big factor. William Blake famously spoke of the ‘dark satanic mills’. Massive social changes began as workers were needed in the factories. Cities began to grow.

Philip James de Loutherbourg, Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801

‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ Caspar David Friedrich, 1818.

The Romantics reacted against the industrial, the mechanical and the controlled. In art, literature and music, they emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.

The Victorian Era was in some ways, a synthesis of Romantic and Enlightenment ideas. A longing for the Gothic, Romantic and medieval past and at the same time, great scientific and technical progress. Photography takes off. Film begins.

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Charles Darwin Einstein's Theory of Relativity Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis Communism Cars Airplanes Telephones Radios WWI

Cubism Futurism (and Vorticism) Abstraction(ism) Stream of Consciousness dada(ism) Surrealism Expressionism Existentialism Pop art Celebration of Technology


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1. The advance group in any field, esp. in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods. 2. Of or pertaining to the experimental treatment of artistic, musical, or literary material. 3. Belonging to the avant-garde: an avant-garde composer. 4. Unorthodox or daring; radical.

Pablo Picasso. The Two Saltimbanques (Harlequin and his Companion), 1901


The world seen from multiple viewpoints. Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d'Avignon’, 1907. ‘There's something anarchist and ruthless about it that contains dada and Marcel Duchamp and punk’.

Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

''On or about December 1910 human character changed,'' Virginia Woolf observed. Relations between ''masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children'' shifted, she wrote, ''and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.''

‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2’ by Marcel Duchamp, 1912. Successive superimposed images – influenced by stopmotion images of Etienne Jules Marey. Criticised as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory’.

Umberto Boccioni – Elasticity 1912.

Futurists were fascinated with dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. ‘We want no part in the past’ wrote Marinetti in Italy. Old art should be ‘heaved over the side of the steamship of modernity’ said Mayakovsky in Russia.

Hans Richter wrote that the beginnings of Dada correspond to the outbreak of World War I. The movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests which many believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformity — in art and more broadly in society — that corresponded to the war.

A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that "The Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man." Art historians described Dada as being "in reaction to what many ...saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide."

‘Fountain’ by Marcel Duchamp, 1917

The art of the Surrealist movement was centred around the irrational and the subconscious. Surrealists sought to affect the viewer, to clash together the external reality and the world of dreams. Many Surrealists knew and interacted in various ways with Freud and Jung.

‘The Elephant Celebes’, Max Ernst. 1921.

Dali said that the shapes were “nothing more than the soft, extravagant, solitary, paranoiac-critical Camembert cheese of space and time”.

‘The Persistence of Memory’, Salvador Dali, 1931

Un Chien Andalou was born when Luis Bunuel told Salvador Dali of a dream he had in which a cloud sliced across the moon. Dali, too, had been having strange dreams. His consisted of ants crawling from inside a hand. There was one rule when it came to writing the screenplay. The only thing the succession of images would have in common is the fact that they have nothing in common. Its purpose: to document desire and shock.

"I suggested that we burn the negative... something I would have done without hesitation had the group agreed. In fact I'd still do it today; I can imagine a huge pyre in my own little garden where all my negatives and all the copies of my own films go up in flames. It wouldn't make the slightest difference." Luis Bunuel.

Screenshot from ‘Le Chien Andalou’, 1929

Precisionists were American painters who painted mammoth urban structures devoid of human activity, standing in mute testament to the hardness and coldness of modern life. Precisionism was an American response to Cubism and Futurism, sometimes called ‘Cubist Realism’

Charles Demuth, Aucassiu and Nicolette, 1921

Skyscrapers, 1922

Charles Scheeler had spent time in Paris, as did many American artists. He created Precisionist landscapes and cityscapes. He teamed up with Paul Strand, a photographer to make ‘Manhatta’ a city film celebrating New York.

Camera movement is kept to a minimum, as is incidental motion within each shot. Each frame provides a view of the city that has been carefully arranged into abstract compositions. People are shown almost as automatons.

Screenshot from ‘Manhatta’, 1921

In 1929, Dziga Vertov made the film ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ which he wrote “Represents an experimentation in the cinematic transmission of visual phenomena without the use of intertitle (a film without intertitles) without the help of a script (a film without script)...

...without the help of a Theatre (a film without actors, without sets, etc.) This new experimentation work by Kino-Eye is directed towards the creation of an authentically international absolute language of cinema – Absolute Kinography – on the basis of its complete separation from the language of theatre and literature."

Tossing aside the traditional notions of cinematic narratives (poignant love stories, sweeping historical accounts, spooky suspense flicks), Léger zoomed in on every day objects, like "a pipe, a chair, a typewriter, a hat, a foot." Finding visual likeness between shapes and movements, "Le Ballet Mécanique" divorces an object’s visual aspects from its function.

Screenshot from ‘Ballet Mécanique’ by painter Fernand Leger and cinematographer/journalist Dudley Murphy, 1924

This Hollywood experimental film synthesizes different strains of the European avant-gardes, particularly Soviet montage and German expressionism, to convey this uniquely American story. The filmmakers themselves play the leading parts.

Screen shot from ‘The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra’ by Slavko Vorkapich and Robert Florey, 1928

From ‘H2O’ by Ralph Steiner, 1929

‘The medieval alchemist spent his days attempting to turn lead into gold. If only he had glanced out his window as the sun came from behind a cloud, what a turning of lead into gold he’d have seen–especially if the sun got behind things to shine through them. The sun doesn’t have to shine on tropical foliage to make magic; it makes it in your own backyard if you are open to magic’.

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Closely aligned with painting, photography Non-narrative, abstract images Celebrating the city, technology, energy Creating an effect, including shock Experiments with montage, form, close-ups Can be Romantic, idealistic
Fernand Léger,’The Mechanic’. 1920

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