Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thinking About Posts

In thinking about Modernism in terms of the first Post-Impressionist exhibition, it has become even more clear to me that Modernism contained the seeds for Post-Modernism. The quest for unity that seemed to preoccupy Moderns like Pound, Eliot, and Hulme clearly begins to fall apart with the Post-Impressionists. The name Fry attributed to Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, the Nabis, and others in itself represents an inability to locate a unifying principle.
As MacCarthy explains in his introduction to the exhibition of 1910, the apparent paradigm shift was one from trying to represent nature to one of self-expression. Classical detachment gives way to romantic individualism once again, but it is a romantic individualism not contained by the standards of an academy. The lack of coherence that results from the juxtaposition of individual expressions makes the Post-Impressionists impossible to pin down. I think Picasso's cubist paintings, detached and analytical (classical) as they were, makes the unity of the grouping even more suspect—he seems to contradict and embrace the paradigm shift Fry believed in at the time of the exhibition. I suspect that this is why Picasso's cubist paintings were left out.
The attempt to combine individualism with a unity of purpose continues after the exhibition with Clive Bell's idea of significant form. Again, the movement away from complete artistic detachment is apparent; instead of approving of the separation of inspiration and creation, Bell seems to want to close the gap between the two as much as possible, though he recognizes them as separate moments: "The creative impulse is one thing; creation another. If the artist's form is to be the equivalent of an experience, if it is to be significant in fact, every scrap of it has got to be fused and fashioned in the whit heat of his emotion" (103). The emotions, though they must be channeled, cannot be allowed to cool. Bell's "significant form" seems to be the equivalent of Eliot's objective correlative, except for this emphasis on keeping the emotional fire stoked. Instead of emotion followed by detachment, we get emotion and detachment coinciding at once—creation is fractured rather than linear.
What I found most refreshing about Roger Fry as an art critic is that he is able to adapt, to allow for contradiction in his own thought. In his "Retrospect" he writes, "Fortunately I have never prided myself upon my unchanging constancy of attitude. . ." (397). Of course, it is important to not the "but" after this utterance: ". . .but unless I flatter myself I think I can trace a certain trend of thought underlying very different expressions of opinion" (397). This "trend of thought" is a form of unity certainly, but I think the trend of thought to which Fry is referring is his constant attempts to be honest to himself about his reactions to art: "One can only watch for and try to discount these, taking every opportunity to catch one's sensibility unawares before it can take cover behind prejudices and theories" (398). In other words, what Fry was trying to do—admirably I think—was to react as an individual rather than letting prevailing theories or opinions blind him.

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