Factors Behind Failure of Modernism

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According to Collingwood, the development of the arts has presented a painful and unstable process because it was generally not progress but retrogression (Read 2006). But arts received its own advance and construction in this constant failure or when went backwards. Thus in the study of art history, analyzing and understanding the causes of such turbulent process are the vital importance. Modernism also inherited this usual turmoil of art history, in the development its became to toward its end. It is said Modernism was ended the moment when Duchamp exhibited his work because his works completely embodied its shortcoming (Levin 2003). This essay will analyze this viewpoint from the area of fine art, which area Duchamp mainly focused on. At first the principles of Modernism will be discussed simply. Then based on those, the thesis will take Duchamp’s fine art works as examples to explain in turn where his works expressed the failure of Modernism.

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Generally said that Modernism originated from the painting theory of the father of Modernism, Paul Cézanne (Read 2006). It came up to seeking the orderliness among elements of painting and explaining the image in rational. This concept had adapted and improved by each art school, became express the obvious characteristics of the whole Modernism. There were three main points:

  1. Modernism was rebel. This word includes three aspects, anti-traditional, anti-social, and anti-art (Zhou 2009). Firstly Modernism broke the classical aesthetic standard, tried to use pure structure and colour to paint in that the abstract art was gave birth. The feature of antisociality was reflected on its reverse response to the development of modernization, such as commercialization, as well as to some social processes, such as war. It broke down and unfamiliarized the reality to reveal and criticize it. Anti-art means that Modernism was critical for itself and this part will be further discussed in the next point.
  2. Modernism payed great attention to explore the new form. Its pursuit of freedom was extremely pure because it aimed to liberating the artist’s personal thinking and emotion. Compared with traditional art, which preferred to record the scenes, modernism targeted searching the various invention and creation of forms (the video Zhang 2017). With the addition of the critique of art itself, Modernism had a veto attitude over the existing art forms and placed more emphasis on exploration of new forms.
  3. Modernism appealed to the reason. Cézanne’s idea, painting in real, was based on a contradictory issue that vision itself was chaotic and unbounded. Thus he proposed a solution that artists should find their own focus on painting, to settle the personal order and organize the picture, then the Rationalization of art was built, transformed the painting from direct appreciation to rational exposition (Ma 2009). Modernist school inherited this idea, used ordered reasoning to suppress irrational impulses. From the superficial perspective, Modernism did achieve the breakthrough. But if these concepts are analyzed combined its whole development process, there was some obvious problem existed in Modernism. Duchamp’s works precisely exerted excessive force on the interpretation of these problem. The details of those are as followed.

Modernism opposed to the art itself thoroughly but stuck at the level of opposing, led to the hesitation of art while it was totally negated. Duchamp’s works inherited the rebellion of Modernism, denied itself extremely radically. It can be said that the character of anti-art was initiated by DaDa which Duchamp had participated in and reached a peak with Duchamp. Particularly one of the Ready-made Art, Fountain, which was took to the exhibition with just placing a urinal upside down. This simple but unprecedented form of art was the challenge he brought to the people, aimed to overturning the perception of the art boundary (the video Zhang 2017). He said, 'If it is a work of art, there is no limit to define art. If it is not, then it will not be in this exhibition.' This concept completely broke the cognitive boundaries of art, declared that aesthetic was meaningless. This is in line with Dada's ironic approach which criticized all forms of art, broke the boundary between art and life (Tzara 1992). Then art was as well as inartistic. Whereas after the radical destruction, the work ended abruptly. It was because the only thing the Ready-made Art presented to the masses was the object itself. It was unable to search more about where Modernism should head for from the content. Fountain threw the issue to this objected art, pushed modernism into the end because of this unsolved confusing cognition

Modernism pursued new forms radically, even to express ideas via the form itself. It rejected the art but he also proposed that art should go back to serve the ideology, means work needs intention. So works can only express ideas outside the content (Qiu 2003). That is, they relied on the form itself to transmit information.For example, Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel Ready-made was not elaborated by words, it could not be understood the thought through the work itself. Because what audiences can see was just a wheel with a chair. Its aesthetic rebelliousness is more reflected by being a part of Ready-made Art, which is a form to rebel beauty. This method of overlapping the form and thought create meaning from the meaningless. But the problem was that exploration of ideological form was pushed to extremity. After this method, if the form retreated to the back of thinking it only showed the repeat of early works (Quincy 1999). Because repeating was contrary to the spirit of the Modernism. Modernism understood the core of exploration of form clearly, but it chose to excavate all of the potential and completely seal off its possibility in that it can hardly continue to develop.Modernism was completely pushed to be the elite art, thus aggravating its tendency to cease when there was no reconciliation with others (Levin 2003). The rationalization of modernism was based on its paradoxical visual order and was achieved through the creators' personal thinking (Zhou 2014). So The Large Glass, according to the concept of pursuing freedom and independence, found the free creation. It used of glass and other composite materials to create the realistic in Plastic Art through the formative features, drew a narrative picture with multiple characters in abstract. The work used precise, block-like faces to depict characters such that art is no longer a product of aesthetics, but fully made the image free. However, this pure freedom made the style of expression to personal to capture the thought of the work for others. The rational explanation no longer took into account the viewers’ feelings but is a wild announcement. This let Modernism keep further away from the reconciliation with the masses. The personal aesthetic and masses’ turned into the disparate roads in that the art works became the kind of elite art. In addition, the work itself had a negative spirit, objecting to the meaning of aesthetics. Then Modernism, which was unacceptable for both others and itself, reached the terminal. Large Glass: Works by Duchamp, M (1915-23) This essay discussed that Duchamp’s works thoroughly represented the failure of Modernism. Yet this is not to deny the achievement of Modernism. It not only broke the limitation of classical art, but also brought the spring of post-modernism. This shake conformed the development of art history, while suffered form zigzag and fracture it receives inspiration from the failure and never stop.

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