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History of art, along with history of science and philosophy, endeavors to record and interpret the ways in which human consciousness perceives and makes sense of itself and the world around it. Ethical principles and cultural values that informed the development of Western civilization are deeply rooted in its classical origins and, therefore, in its heavy reliance on the rationalist school of thought. Classicism, rationalism and humanism - the concept that can be regarded as a derivative of the first two - not only defined the path of Western culture, but also ensured this culture's extreme openness and perceptivity towards other cultures and non-Western schools and systems.This heritage of rationalist philosophy and humanist ethics ensured that in a complex historical situation the 20th century art drew its strength and inspiration from the same humanistic principles and managed to sustain an essentially positive and optimistic view of the oncoming cultural changes, brought on by industrial and social revolutions. On the examples of high modernism in poetry, Cubism in painting and International Style in architecture this essay will attempt to demonstrate the continuity within rationalist and humanist tradition that modern and postmodern Western art displayed. This continuity manifests itself, firstly, in acknowledging the historical sense within modernism, in claiming the indebtedness of the new art to classicism and tradition. Secondly, it expresses itself in questioning the nature of representation and emergence of non-realist schools and movements as a consequence of applying rationalist tools of scientific knowledge to specifically artistic ways of cognition. Thirdly, this continuity is reflected in challenging aestheticist ideas, in growing popularity of instrumentalist theories of art and in the idea of artistic 'engagement' which has undeniable affinity with the concept of humanism. And lastly, the evidence of such continuity can be found in relatively recent phenomena of internationalization and globalization that affected all postmodern art and invited its interpretation as ultimately, universally humanist.
The first half of the 20th century is often perceived as a time of breaking away from tradition, a time of explosive growth of avant-garde schools and movements, a time when new means of representation were being adopted to reflect revolutionary changes in science, technology and societal structures. These movements, despite their belonging to different spheres of art, literature and music, came to be known under a common name of modernism. It is not easily realised and admitted that modernism, for all its innovative spirit and love of experimentation, was fully consequential, if not predictable. It did not come out of nothing; it grew out of a certain tradition and emerged within the paradigm of rationalist and humanist values.
An adequate first example to support our argument is T.S. Eliot, a poet who was also one of the first theorists of high modernism. Eliot's poetry is highly innovative in form and style; it bears all characteristics of high modernism (fragmentation, intertextual allusions, rejection of traditional forms and rhyme); at the same time it explicitly states its regard for classicism and tradition. Eliot expressed this regard in his seminal essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent", written in 1919:
The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. (Eliot, 38)
In the poem "Mr Appolinax", part of his most renowned collection, Prufrock and Other Observations, Eliot makes frequent use of classical allusions and conveys the sense of modernity being enclosed within the timelessness
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(“20th century art and culture Essay Example | Topics and Well Written Essays - 1000 words”, n.d.)
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(20th Century Art and Culture Essay Example | Topics and Well Written Essays - 1000 Words)
“20th Century Art and Culture Essay Example | Topics and Well Written Essays - 1000 Words”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/history/1526774-20th-century-art-and-culture.
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