Unreal Nature

October 30, 2018

Refusal to Have Anything to Do with the Public

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… Modern art became homeless and began to lose all practical function.

This is from The Social History of Art, volume IV by Arnold Hauser (1962; 1951):

… After the failure of all ideals [1848], of all Utopias, the tendency is now to keep to the facts, to nothing but the facts. The political origins of naturalism explain in particular its anti-romantic and ethical features: the refusal to escape from reality and the demand for absolute honesty in the description of facts; the striving for impersonality and impassibility as the guarantees of objectivity and social solidarity; activism as the attitude intent not only on knowing and describing but on altering reality; the modernism which keeps to the present as the sole subject of consequence …

… But did the naturalists really represent the contemporary world, or at least an important part of the contemporary art public? They certainly did not represent the majority of the people who ordered, bought or publicly criticized pictures, who directed the art academies and had to decide which works were to be exhibited.

… [These people] had no room for the creations of naturalistic painting either in their homes crammed with furniture and draperies, nor in their official halls built in one or the other of the favorite historical styles. Modern art became homeless and began to lose all practical function. The same distance that separated naturalistic painting and the elegant ‘wall decoration’ of the time also divided serious and light literature, serious and light music, from each other.

[line break added] The literature or music which did not serve to entertain was just as devoid of function as the progressive painting of the time. Previously even the most valuable and most serious productions of literature, such as the novels of Prévost, Rousseau and Balzac, had formed the reading of a relatively large strata of society, some of which were quite indifferent to literature as such. The dual role of literature as an art and an entertainment at the same time, and the satisfaction of the requirements of different levels of culture by means of the same works, now comes to an end.

[line break added] The artistically most valuable literary products are hardly any longer suitable for light reading and have no attraction at all for the general reading public, unless they draw public attention to themselves for some reason and become successful by creating a scandal, like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, for example. Only a quite small stratum of intellectuals appreciates such works adequately and therefore even this literature may be classed as ‘studio art,’ like the whole school of progressive painting: it is intended for specialists, for artists and connoisseurs.

[line break added] The estrangement of the whole body of progressive artists from the contemporary world and their refusal to have anything to do with the public goes so far that they not only accept lack of success as something perfectly natural, but regard success itself as a sign of artistic inferiority and consider being misunderstood by their contemporaries a precondition of immortality.

My previous post from Hauser’s book is here.




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