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Cultural Changes That Influenced 20th Century Aesthetics Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1685 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Among the social and cultural highlights of Twentieth Century should be noted the loss of optimism, a confidence that since eighteenth century’s Enlightenment relied on the values of reason and progress. At the same time, a cultural relativism extends, by which Western man no longer sees himself as having a superior culture. A third transformation factor is the emergence of mass culture, a product of mass media and of the progressive availability of leisure time. This historical context led to a new artistic sensibility. European culture began exploring novel ways, looking for more modern forms of expression appropriate to the times. Because of the profound crisis that took place at the time, the ideas and society changed, and myriad of artistic trends were developed. You could no longer speak of an era, a movement or a tendency to guide the entire artistic production, but of a multiplicity of styles that increased over time.

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The loss of optimism and confidence in the values of reason and progress was due to the release that society experienced from traditional values, which began at the academy, and like every human release it had its origins as a liberation of thought whose leader was Nietzsche who denounced rationalism and ethnocentrism as unfit values of a society in decline. This shift meant the development of art as a search to find its own essence and authenticity in opposition to the established canons. Art refrained from representing experiences and the objects of experience as it was used before, especially during the Romanticism in a way that used to create human-like or more precisely Western-like representations, the new art desisted of such expressions and thus it became sort of dehumanized. Art looked for a lost authenticity of its own and it succeed, it became like itself.

During this period art ceases to be affected by the values of Romanticism, beginning to base its work according to the Nietzchean thought of art as a representation of truth:

a theory rooted in a return to the ancient Greek conception of tragic insight as Nietzsche conceived it, a theory of a performative art that would deliver a Dionysian interpretation of the world and would reveal the autogenerative fountain of existence and return art to the role it possessed in German idealist philosophy -the role of providing a doorway onto ontological truth… there are now artistic accomplishments that follow the route which Nietzsche would have laid out had he composed a purely aesthetics volume in the last years of his life. (Ulfers & Cohen, 2000)

Popular concepts like “progress” or rationalist visions rooted in common sense came to be regarded as naive by critics and artists who came towards a creation in itself artistic, the new art is an artistic art (Ortega y Gasset, 1968), which means that instead of representing human experiences as we come to find them, art will make representations of the genuine traits that follow from an effort for catching what really happens, thus art becomes like itself. Because this selfness of art has been solely understood and contemplated by scholars, critics, artists and a few followers, art has vanished from the domain of common people, becoming exclusive. With minimal art, conceptual art, ephemeral art, the anti-art, a dematerialization of art is spoken about, an aesthetic of transparency, of disappearance and disincarnating, but in reality it is the aesthetic that has materialized everywhere under operational form. That’s why, moreover, that art has been forced to be minimal, to interpret its own demise. (Baudrillard, 1993)

According to the study of Baudrillard the current state of things is after the orgy, where everything has been released, but then has left a void, which is needed to keep the excesses of simulations of dreams, situations, images, illusions and fantasies.

Characterizing the current state of things, I would say that this is the post-orgy. The orgy is the explosive moment of modernity, that of liberation in all areas. Political liberation, sexual liberation, liberation of productive forces, liberation of destructive forces, and liberation of women, of children, of the unconscious impulses, liberation of art. (Baudrillard, 1993)

This release refers originally to the liberation of thought as we saw how the philosophical thinking made critics and artists to carry forward their creation according to an ideal of authenticity, that is, according to their freedom.

Once ethnocentrism was revealed as a fallacy of nineteenth century’s Rationalism, the artists saw that their way of seeing things, the way of the society to which they belonged, was no longer the only canon to perform, emerging the other side in the perception of creators, as unconscious, as indigenous, as woman and as folly.

The emergence of mass culture from the media allowed the liberation of art to become massive in its operation, which generated a trivialization of art that reversed the initial impetus for transparency and authenticity to an emptiness of content and an evaluation of art that is not through the critics, but mainly by the market, whether it is a pastiche, if it’s a “neo” from any movement, if it says or doesn’t say nothing, if whoever creates it or if it’s just nothing, the only thing that matters is that the market pays for it. At this point it is appropriate to distinguish and to warn of a critique of art that refers to what is not art, as if it was art. By mid-century art began to be valued for the amateur and profane production of dilettante items, artistic according to the propaganda, crossed in its creation by the neoliberal system and so devoid of meaning. So art in itself remains outside of this mass production, it only operates in part due to its own value set in the game, which society learned to appreciate and which is owned for the trade. A recent example of art that remains in its original focus by matching its creation to what is really happening – the massification of the artistic operation- are the paintings of Andy Warhol synthesizing popular images as expressions of beauty and authenticity.

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The progressive availability of leisure time generated by the process of industrialization and the subsequent massification of society helped to ensure a space and time for the individual creation while transforming the leisure time to an experience that was decimated by alienated labor, with no broad access to the insights and knowledge that was being generated in the academy and in the circles of artists and critics, the mass man, the proletarian man only knew about art and took it for his action and enjoyment without having an accurate impression of it, and without really caring for it, he wanted to use it for the same purposes of the market to which he was submitted, namely that art was used and held in ordinary products that entertained the desire for consumerism and the emotionality of the current common man. It would be very different if the leisure time had been exercised as a Dionysian experience. The avant-garde artists who transformed art towards the end of the XIX century have carried out the reassembly of the heroic and tragic nature of the ancient Greek creators.

It sounds as if the emergence of mass culture made this release of the arts accessible to all, but rather the case is that the value placed by the market on the production of art has generated a production of works that lack of critical review since it merely responds to the purist measures of the economic system. In modern, Western societies, according to Bourdieu, the field of culture likewise operates according to a disguised logic of deferred interest. The market of symbolic goods assigns cultural value to those works, and those authors, that defer immediate returns: high art is differentiated from low culture with the former’s apparent distance from or denial of temporal rewards. In The Rules of Art (1992), Bourdieu’s most sustained examination of literature, he shows how the novelist Gustave Flaubert, among other late nineteenth-century writers, sought to constitute a literary field whose autonomy was defined by its rupture with the economic order (121). With the triumph of modernism, literature (and art) would no longer be subject either to financial patronage or to the emerging mass market. (Beasley-Murray, 2004). Accordingly, art disappears from the common domain, and this disappearance reaches its antithetical expression in the work of Warhol, as referring to the alternative destination in which the masses of humanity would reach the learning and enthusiasm for works of art without that their approach has been crossed by the created urgencies and obligations of a business or economic system, therefore a mass production of artworks by a genuine and autonomous view, generating a collective exaltation and inspiration, so as to the mood of the avant-garde.

The cultural changes that occurred towards the end of the nineteenth century have a thoughtful, academic, philosophical and traditional source. The thoughts generated from that source have a countercultural nature as they opposed to the established values. The criterion of truth and authenticity became a basis for the work of artists and critics. The masses turned out to be excluded from the proper creation or contemplation of artworks, which became distinctive of a circle of artists and critics. Valuation of art by the market so as to achieve its operation and claim its ownership, but without achieving a valid operation, as a result: a mere consumption, abandonment, and indifference. Relevance of art and artists in that they initially focus on that hint of inspiration – rejection of the biased way to artistic creation – provided by modern thinking, and that this momentum of genuineness can turn on the same common process that overlooks art at present, so that to achieve its representation.


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