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“Le Démolisseur” by Paul Signac (1863-1935


Review by Renato Araújo (

Donald Drew Egbert (1902-1973) was a teacher at Princeton University. His book "Social Radicalism and the Arts" is a very wide and well documented analysis of relations between arts and social radicalism since French Revolution, avant-garde, anarchist ideas of art and its artists, to the socialist realism of the 20th century. The book discusses in a historical perspective the influences of libertarian movements from Jacobins, socialism, communism, anarchism and also other forms of political struggles or propaganda on arts. There are 122 illustrations of artists that include paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, architectural plans, cartoons, etc. and it covers from 1785 to 1967. Egbert says: "the idea of an avant-garde alienated from the prevailing society, that idea which, since the French Revolution, has marked artistic and social radicalism alike, has now become so changed that it has essentially lost its traditional meaning. Traditionally, the idea of avant-garde has connoted rebellion by relatively small progressive groups against established authority - whether absolutist, aristocratic, or bourgeois. To the avant-garde such authority has been responsible for injustices, especially class-imposed injustices, which have prevented social progress and the development of the individual person, particularly the individual artist or the individual workingman. The reaction of the avant-garde has been to express in some way outrage at the 'rules' imposed by authority, whether the rules of the academic tradition in art developed under absolutism and taken over by a Philistine

bourgeoisie or the rules determining the economic development of society under the control of bourgeois capitalism since the Industrial Revolution. By the time this book was completed, however, deliberate artistic 'outrage' had become so commonplace that it was losing its force in the Western world. Old late, in nearly all Western countries the Establishment has been seeking out and supporting the avant-garde as part of official culture, so that the very conception of an alienated avant-garde is being thoroughly questioned in the supposedly bourgeois West. Consequently, avant-garde art has of late become widely fashionable – a contradiction to the traditional meaning of the term “avant-garde”, and one that is by no means proving entirely beneficial for art.” My own criticism about this book is that it is a little bit repetitive and though there is a good analysis for history of social radicalism on visual arts, it lacks some conceptual development in the artistic point of view or better in the philosophy of art point of view. Also some critics like William M. Johnston (The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter, 1971), pp. 271-273) points that Egbert's book as "deeply flawed" showing asymmetry on the definition of "social radicalism", lack of quotations on literary and music radicals and it excludes also the right wing radicals, though he think Egbert's Book is a "formidable volume". Another Princeton teacher, Mr. Anson G. Rabinbach, also wrote about this book saying that: "In the half decade before World War I, the first generation of “modernist” painters proclaimed as their singular and audacious task the rediscovery of truth itself. They were perhaps the first to perceive the importance of the indivisibility of technos and logos in modern capitalism. All former systems of artistic truth — with fixed notions of time, space, nature and beauty — had suddenly become obsolete. As a result, they began a quixotic, frenetic struggle to liberate painting from the photograph and creativity from mechanical reproduction. Cezanne was the first to discover that the experienced perspective differed fundamentally from that of photographic representation. Apollinaire, who is most often credited with being the spiritual founder of modern art, remarked in his Aesthetic Meditations of 1913 that art must abandon the subject because “only photographers manufacture duplicates of nature,” and painters, like gods, can create only in their own image." Donald Drew Egbert, Social Radicalism and the Arts: Western Europe (Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), 821 pages.