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The process of abstraction in the contemporary age

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In 1925 Franz Roh (1890-1965) theorized Magic Realism (Nach-Expressionismus – magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten europäisches Malerei, Leipzig, Klinkhardt & Biermann), stating that painting had the task of opposing the vague and demonic flow of existence. The pictorial representation therefore had to crystallize the volumes, making them solid, immutable and timeless. The works belonging to Magic Realism, and to the previous pictorial experiences that generated it (Metaphysics in particular), owe that sense of restlessness to the temporal suspension that they produced, obtained through the solidification of a pictorial material with stylistic references of the 15th and 16th centuries, rendered inanimate also by the introduction of abstract geometric solids. The figures appear inexpressive and lifeless, but they can even change into mannequins as in the work of De Chirico (Giorgio De Chirico 1888-1978) and metaphysical painters in general.

This suspension of the flow of life cannot be traced back solely to the production of Magic Realism and its historical precedents. It is a broader concept, which has permeated much of the twentieth-century production. Just think of the Duchamp ready-made (Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968, an exponent of Dadaism born in Zurich in 1916, who in 1914 made his first ready-made, a bottle rack, it is a practice of his own invention for which he took an object of daily use to place it, after signing it, within the art gallery, a practice that lays the foundations and originates the conceptual art that will develop in the sixties of the last century), obtained by taking an object of daily use from its space-time context, so as to place it in the isolation of the nonspace-time of the gallery and within which the objects rise to art without time and therefore to symbols. Moreover, in 1907, just seven years ahead of the first ready-made, Willelm Worringer (1881-1965) published “Abstraction and Empathy”, exalting abstraction to the detriment of empathy and describing it as the act of tearing a subject (animated or inanimate) from its space-time context to suspend it in a nonspace that absolutizes it. He had thus anticipated by three years the birth of abstract painting and most of the artistic practices that would follow one another.

On the other hand, Worringer theories take root in an environment that had already shown such tendencies. We could even say that these aspirations to abstraction were already present at the beginning of the Contemporary Era (which coincides with 1789, the year of the start of the French Revolution), when in the full development of revivalist architectural eclecticism Boullée (Étienne-Louis Boullée 1728-1799) and Leoudoux (Claude-Nicolas Ledoux 1736-1806) began to imagine constructions based on primary geometric solids: cube, sphere and pyramid. In this case, they anticipated Worringer, who in his treatise indicated Egyptian art, and the pyramid in particular, as the ideal expression of artistic forms that aspire to abstraction. Worringer had thus intuited a profound and significant character of contemporaneity. The industrial revolution, which is one of the fundamental and determining characteristics of contemporaneity, transforms the daily and working life of men, tearing them away from the rural and agricultural context that is based on the natural and seasonal cycles of harvesting and those of the day-night alternation, isolating them in urban centers that expanding and radically changing the landscape. Within these industrial islands, time is suspended. Industrial production imposes a continuity that knows no interruption at night and also consumption, which marks leisure practices in large cities, knows no interruption whatsoever.

Even in the antagonism of the Gothic Novel (a literary genre that began in 1764 with Horace Walpole’s Il castello di Otranto 1717-1797, which gave rise to the genre novel), in response to industrialisation and the mechanisation of life and work, the characters of abstraction are present. We can consider him a forerunner of that sense of restlessness and suspension that later permeated part of Symbolism first, of Metaphysical and Magic Realism then and the subsequent ramifications, until reaching our days to Pop Surrealism (the artistic current Lowbrow, or Pop Surrealism, was born in Los Angeles at the end of the eighties of the last century). His recourse to indefinite historical epochs, more mental than real, the presence of characters with supernatural or non-human characters, more suggested than asserted, assign to a large part of Gothic literature those characters of restlessness and temporal suspension typical of abstraction. The mannequins and alienating geometric solids of metaphysics come from the roots of contemporaneity, it is precisely the presence of these inanimate forms that determine the distinctive character of those literary and pictorial works.

In the Italian case, these aspects are all the more significant. If we reflect on the fifteenth-sixteenth-century models at the basis of Magic Realism and Metaphysics, the reference to Piero Della Francesca (1416-1492) is indispensable. In Piero those characters, more widespread and characteristic of the painting developed in central Italy and then dominant in Rome, reach an emblematic evidence. The rigid and static bodies and the inexpressive and modular faces are already the future metaphysical mannequins. In Piero everything is mathematical volume, conception and form are abstract.

Of course, at the end of the 18th century, the formal theories of Boullée and Leoudoux remained for the most part design embryos, but the circular nature that contemporaneity would have assumed has allowed eclecticism to return to vogue, which in recent post-modern architectural experiences (albeit with an inclination towards toys rather than the functionality of the building as a space for everyday life), has transformed those aspirations into concrete form. In this sense, the symbolic (in many ways) pyramid (1989) placed by Pei (Ieoh Ming Pei 1917) in front of the Louvre can rightly be considered one of the greatest examples of the concretization of those architectural aspirations of the late eighteenth century. Postmodernity is the emblematic final form of the Contemporary Epoch, which started out as a quotationist and ended up quoting quotationism. This quotation, elevated to the second, recalls Joseph Kosuth’s (1945) statement “Art as art, as art”, where art becomes the idea of itself at the second. This shift in ideas and attitudes to the second is evidence of a high degree of abstraction.

From this abstraction of the artist Arnheim had already warned us (1904-2007), when in Art and Visual Perception (1954) he denounced the risk that the artist, as a result of his decayed social function previously assigned to him by the client, could become an outsider, abstracting himself from society no longer fulfilling any role in it.

In the early nineties of the last century De Vecchi and Cerchiari, in Arte nel Tempo, had already highlighted how some of the statements made by leading figures in art between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, could be a valuable tool for reading the changes in understanding of art and more generally of the relationship between artists and society.

Starting from post-impressionism with Maurice Denis (1870-1943) who claimed that after all “a painting is only a painted surface”, decreing the death of art as a mimesis of the world and the illusive spatiality of painting. Then in 1910 he continued with Malevich (Kazimir Severinovič Malevič 1878-1935), who stated that “art must have no other reference than itself”. Then in the 1950s Reinhardt (Adolph Dietrich Friedrich Reinhardt 1913-1967) would say “art as art” and in the 1960s he would be strengthened by Kossuth’s “art as idea, as idea”. This short journey, made up of sentences, puts us at a distance from the world and its presences, leading us to the abstract idea of thought. This path leads us to post-impressionist painting, which has now become definitively two-dimensional in order to arrive at the birth of abstraction (abstract painting originated in 1910 with Wasilij Kndinskij 1866-1944) with the abandonment of figuration, to the informal (an artistic movement that developed at the end of the Second World War) where the concept of painting as a compositional space of forms decays in many pictorial production and where painting begins to become action, that action that then led to the abandonment of painting in the sixties to embrace performance, installation and conceptual (the so-called cold currents developed from the sixties onwards of the last century). Slowly, matter decays, art is no longer an artifact but an abstract concept. If Duchamp had taken an object from its everyday role and context, isolating and suspending it in the non-time of the gallery, Kossuth abstracts the artist from the pictorial matter, taking Arnheim’s fears to the extreme.

To avoid misunderstandings, it should be pointed out here that in the 1960s, at the beginning of conceptual art and of what would later be defined as cold currents, the historical-social context of the youthful protest against all forms of previous power justified and nourished the development of these currents. The protest then wanted to oppose the power in force in all its forms, contesting the social and sexual, political and economic customs. Art as a producer of luxury goods, devoted to private property and its sale, represented one of the statuses and forms of power to be fought. But an art that did not produce objects would not feed the market, moreover bringing art to the idea and not to its realization would make art more democratic, more affordable to anyone. The broad scope of the movement of those years demanded totalitarian equality in every respect.

As early as 1975, Corrado Maltese denounced the failed aspect of such practices:

«The use of production activities with practically no product is sometimes explained by critics and artists on the grounds of their intention to reject the logic of the ‘commodification’ of products as such. It is barely necessary to observe that this motivation is pretextual and purely unrealistic: not even a mime or a clown sells ‘products’ that can be separated from the production activity, but in any case sells something, because it sells hours and hours of itself and of its own existence. This judgment does not imply, of course, that contradiction is not symptomatic: the decline of the culture of objects and its accelerated substitution with the culture of transient forms has in fact very deep causes and aspects […]» (Corrado Maltese, Guida allo studio della storia dell’arte, [1975], Milan, Mursia Editore, 1988).

The rest, as they say, is history and that movement was won by the market and by power, aspects that today seem to blend into each other until they coincide. Moreover, the consequences of the abstract push led, in the nineties, to the birth of BritArt (Young British Artists or BritArt, an artistic current whose first exhibition dates back to 1988), a phenomenon that apparently could descend from the cold currents mentioned above, but which in reality does not have the propulsive break brought by the broad breath that heralded new values in the sixties. The falsely scandalous operations, suitable for the economic establishment that knows little or nothing about art, are essentially linked to marketing, to the strategies of fascination of the target audience. The artistic operations are aimed at raising the prices on the market. The market is no longer the vehicle for selling the work, but becomes the work itself.

The fact that the artist had declined his research duties had already been understood the previous decade, making himself a mere executor of the strategies of some VIPs of the critics.

Throughout the history of art, the differences between the market, the taste of the various eras, so to speak, and artistic research are constant and natural. This naturalness has been and continues to be dictated by the work as a luxury artifact, whose commission could not but come from the wealthy classes who intended it as an instrument of propaganda of their power. On the other hand there was the artist with his stylistic and expressive needs, interpreters of his own vision of the world. Yet this did not prevent authors with a solid identity from conducting their own research, in many cases bypassing the same client. The continuous historical-artistic re-readings are evidence of how the changing tastes of the times determined the fortunes or misfortunes of entire artistic careers and of how we now consider essential, for our history and our cultural heritage, authors who did not necessarily have favor, success and money. The biographies are there to testify that what today appears so dazzling and legendary, often, was anything but.

Then, with Romanticism, commissioning declined, allowing art to devote itself fully to research (a process that began following the democratic cultural revolutions of the Enlightenment). The weakness shown by art and artists in the last thirty years of the last century would therefore seem incomprehensible and even the result of mere greed if not brought back in this shift towards an abstraction that presents the characteristics of dissociation pathological.

We have therefore found an abstract matrix that in the course of the twentieth century permeates the figurative, non-figurative and cold expressions of art and that also coexists with the democratic drive originated by the Enlightenment and resumed and spread by socialist thought in the nineteenth century, reaching up to the youth movement of the sixties of the twentieth century. These two souls seem irreconcilable, yet we have discovered them in parallel: the drive for change, for subversion, for social and technical evolution as opposed to fears of the consequences of those same changes. Rationality as an egalitarian instrument of social democratization, pursued through the dissemination of humanistic and scientific knowledge, and the fear of excessive rationalization. The two souls who have always lived together in man and who return to manifest themselves by tormenting him, being incapable of reaching a synthesis.

The tormented doubt between rational and irrational drives, between technological advantages and fears of the excesses of technological life, is one of the characteristic aspects of contemporary life, where the rise of the mechanization of work, due to the industrial revolution and leading to the consequent birth of capitalism, is artistically opposed by the Gothic Novel with its mysterious, irrational and supernatural drives that constituted a substantial part of the soul of Romanticism. Within postmodernism this aspect seems to have been repeated similarly, particularly if we take into account how, from the end of the fifties of the twentieth century, the digital push has triggered the same fears, particularly expressed in cinema and science fiction literature. Here too, as in the case of the Gothic, the fears of the machine overtaking man, in the particular case of robots, and of the informational control that could lead to new forms of totalitarianism. This last fear is all the more pertinent in the Information Age, where information is understood as an instrument of economic and market power. In essence, Postmodernism has replicated some of the dynamics typical of the beginning of contemporaneity, something that also in this case seems to conclude it as it began. The instrument of widespread knowledge, which at the dawn of contemporaneity was indicated and used as an instrument of democratic diffusion – but also of capitalist diffusion through the expansion of the market and consumer segments – today, in the Information Age, is itself a commodity, indeed constituting the economic foundation of the new flexible capitalism.

Today, in the presence of new media, of the upheaval they have caused in communication and social relations, in the presence of the so-called generation of digital natives, the same artistic action would seem to lose its meaning, or at least lose itself in the unstoppable tsunami of digital images and information that overwhelms everything without leaving traces on their path. Indeed, images constitute the main language of economic diffusion and colonization of the social imaginary in the Information Age, due to their rapidity of unconscious penetration. Knowledge about images and their linguistic aspects should therefore be widely disseminated and belong to the common school curricula. The new generations use and communicate through eminently visual media. These media, which are now interactive, are much more powerful than their passive counterparts. They are able to virtually permeate the life of the users, leading them to a double existence, where the physical-geographic one is accompanied by the immaterial and digital one. And within which the continuity between the time of the subject-worker, therefore subject-producer, and that of the subject-consumer, whose free time and entertainment lead him back to an uninterrupted economic dynamic, is sharpened. It is precisely through interaction that the user becomes a product of the new media, to which, through their use, he provides free personal information. Information that allows communication to be targeted and effective in proposing content and arousing needs.

«The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, which means the ways and relations of production, that is, in the final analysis, the whole of social relations. The unchanged preservation of the ancient mode of production was the first condition of existence of the old industrial classes. This continuous subversion of production, this uninterrupted shaking of social conditions, this perpetual motion, with the constant insecurity that accompanies it, distinguishes the bourgeois era from all the others that preceded it. All the ancient and rusty relationships of life, with all their following of opinions and beliefs received and venerated by tradition, dissolve; and the new relationships that take over age even before they have had time to settle and consolidate. Everything that was stable and that responded to the hierarchy of the classes vanishes, everything that was sacred is desecrated, and men eventually find themselves having to consider their conditions of existence with eyes free from any illusion.

Driven by the need for ever new outlets for their goods, the bourgeoisie pushes across the globe to invade it. Everywhere it has to establish itself, everywhere it needs to extend the lines of trade.» (Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848)

What would Marx and Engels have said in the presence of new technologies? They would certainly have pointed out the colonization aspect of the imaginary, which not only tends to permeate it with bourgeois propaganda demands and requirements, but also extends its economic practices to subject-users, making them a product and commodity of exchange.

«Because of the rapid improvement of all the instruments of production and communications have become infinitely easier, the bourgeoisie is forced to drag even the most barbaric nations into the current of civilization. The low prices of its goods are the heavy artillery with which it demolishes all the Chinese walls and with which it has brought down the barbarians most rooted in hatred against the foreigner; it forces all nations to adopt the forms of bourgeois production if they do not want to die, and it forces them to receive what it calls civilization, that is, to become bourgeois. To put it in a single expression, it creates a world in its own image and likeness.

Every crisis regularly destroys not only a large slice of products, but many of the productive forces that were created. An epidemic, which in any other historical era would have seemed a contradiction, a new epidemic is revealed in the crises, and it is that of overproduction. Society unexpectedly falls into a transitory state of true barbarism. One might say that famine, or a general war of extermination, has deprived it of the means of existence: trade and industry seem to be annihilated, and why? Because society has too much civilisation, too many means of subsistence, too much industry, too much trade. On the contrary, they have become too powerful for such relations, which therefore become impediments; and whenever these forces overcome the impediment they create disorder in the whole of society, threatening the existence of bourgeois property itself. The conditions of the bourgeois world have become too narrow to contain the wealth that they themselves produce. By what means can the bourgeoisie overcome crises? On the one hand, by destroying, depending on the circumstances, a large number of productive forces; on the other, by conquering new markets and exploiting existing ones more intensely. By what means, then? By preparing new, more extensive and more formidable crises, and by reducing the means to overcome future crises.» (Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, op.cit.)

What about the recent economic crisis, which has always been commented on by and in the media, as the mere expression of a single economic event, rather than as an inherent feature of the economic dynamics indispensable to the survival of capitalism?

«Those same weapons with which the bourgeoisie was able to break down feudalism, now turn against it.

But the bourgeoisie has not only prepared the weapons, which will bring death to it; it has also produced the men, who will use those same weapons, that is, the modern workers, the proletarians.

To the same extent as the bourgeoisie, i.e. capital, develops, so does the proletariat, i.e. the class of modern workers, who live as long as they find work, and find work as long as their work increases capital. These workers, who are forced to sell themselves day by day, are but a commodity like all the others, a commodity subject to all the events of competition, and to all the fluctuations of the market.» (Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, op.cit.)

Marx and Engels believed that the creation of the working class, as a side effect of capitalist production, which became increasingly numerous and strong, could bring an end to bourgeois hegemony and capitalism. Hope thwarted by the totalitarianism of virtual communication where every man becomes a product. And men find themselves (again) in the end having to consider their conditions of existence with eyes free from any illusion.

These two aspects, capitalist power and image production, are today deeply interconnected and should force the authors of images and artists in particular, who should be dedicated to research, to greater ethical rigor than their expressive responsibility.

«The liberating forms undoubtedly present themselves as models (macro and micro-models) of freedom and therefore as pilot forms of taste, but they are pilot forms because they are liberating first of all for the hegemonic social group or groups, for whose existential conditions they are appropriate and for which they have been produced. This does not mean that pilot forms cannot contain a universal liberating value, i.e. valid also for subordinate social groups and classes, but this is possible only to the extent that their subordinate condition ceases. In the absence of this, beauty and aesthetics will always find, in groups and in the subordinate social classes, different and subordinate ways to be realized and will continue, even if in limited forms, to be realized, at least until the playful dimension of men, that is, their need to free themselves, at least for a few moments, from the world of ends or instrumentality (which at its base then has the need to constantly broaden their existential horizon) has been hypothetically definitively suppressed». (Corrado Maltese, Guida allo studio della storia dell’arte, [1975], Milan, Mursia Editore, 1988)

This is the reason for the disconnection between contemporary art and the social body, as it has increasingly assumed abstract forms of production, it has unconsciously abstracted itself from sociality itself and this, paradoxically, wishing to pursue apparently more social and public forms. While art became a body in its own right, separated from the daily life of individuals, other forms of expression, such as cinema and music in the twentieth century, became interpreters of social issues with much more force than art was able, precisely because they used processes and languages that, denying the optimistic premises of their advocates, proved increasingly incomprehensible and unsuitable for the representation of the real needs of individuals, becoming instead interpreters mainly of the needs of the establishment and congenial to the new economic forms, precisely because of their immateriality and speed of decline. In all, it embodies the new immateriality and perishability of the information industry and of the new economic-social models.

Moreover, this virtual life of ours embodies the summa of our abstract origin and constitutes the suppression of that playful dimension, transforming us, through the use of virtual communications, into goods and products. And yet, at the very moment of the greatest existential impalpability, the historical echo and the new productive sap of that artistic feeling that has always been opposed to abstraction and that we feel we must free here from the contemporary informative stunner has become stronger and stronger. The new feeling strongly records and denounces this human impalpability and its denied identity, recording absences rather than presences. The noise produced by the Information Age, with its mass of data continually vomited and swallowed up by the media, is such that it is equivalent to silence, to the total absence of information, since in such a noise it is impossible to distinguish the single voice, to discern the single sentence.

This new millennium has shown the peremptory will of individuals to be present, to appear through the formats of reality or talent TV shows and the interactive communication systems of social networks. Practices that do nothing but abstract those same individuals from the spatio-temporal concreteness of their daily lives. Testifying, in truth, the frustration of anonymity and desperate loneliness of individuals, because this is the true spirit that permeates our time and contemporary society wanted by the new formulas of capitalism, to which we have not only voluntarily submitted, but that we feed, as I said, being the real and concrete product. Then we cradle ourselves in the childish illusion of choosing or managing it. This virtual life of ours, this abstract existence, this dramatic absence of individual and social identity, this disintegration of spirits through the annihilation of the intelligence and sentiment of individuals is what this pictorial area has been charged with bringing out and making explicit. This nature and expressive need can only be contrasted with the thoughts that generate human annihilation and, consequently, with those forms of expression that are part of it and feed it. I am obviously referring to those currents that make the concept of abstraction an expressive practice. These practices follow the capitalist economic behaviors that from time to time have the need to snatch a subject, expressive or commodity, to be exploited in a short time by exhausting it and then immediately abandon it to exploit a new one. In a frenetic vampire activity. Thus avoiding that none of these subjects can assume real importance or sufficient power to be concretely incisive or constitute a threat. Markets that feed on the death of other markets and classes that feed on the annihilation of other classes. Needless to say, these subjects are substantially superficial, free from any form or ideological position, having to fulfill the exclusive task of product.

It is not by chance that some of the fathers of this current and different pictorial feeling place themselves uncomfortably, almost like foreign objects, within the artistic production of the twentieth century or that they are placed there in a minority form.

It must be said that this pictorial mode is not recognized in the production of the twentieth century or, even here, in minority form. We are referring in particular to its technical-expressive characteristics, which are closer to many of the examples of the late nineteenth century, with particular reference to the use of the pictorial material, but, as I said, also to a more heartfelt social participation.

Although linked to previous technical and pictorial experiences, as would be the case for any other area of artistic production, it can be said to be free from any practice of quotationism. It seems to read the twentieth century as the interruption of a discourse that arrived at the end of the nineteenth century that it resumed. The examples present in the twentieth century, and comparable to it, for this reason are uncomfortable or underground and certainly sporadic compared to the most characteristic trends of that century.

This fact is linked to and expressed in the use of a fragmented and liquefied pictorial material, which tends to substantially deny volume and push itself in the deforming direction of the elements of figuration. That same pictorial process that in the course of the nineteenth century had led to the explosion of the academic and traditional pictorial structure, which from Renaissance classicism had then moved into Neoclassicism with its smoothness, to arrive at an increasingly rapid pictorial execution that did not hide the material and the pictorial gesture, making the painting appear ever closer to what was previously defined as the study of the executive and revealing it for what it is in reality: material and gesture on a surface. A practice that, in France, will be evidently rendered in Impressionist painting, but already visible in the works of artists such as Constable (John Constable 1776-1837) and Turner (William Turner 1775-1851), to give two excellent examples, although it is a much more widespread phenomenon that comes from Romantic landscape painting. Examples of this approach to the revealing use of pictorial matter can be found in the genius of certain artists, such as the latest production by Goya (Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes 1746-1828) or in early 18th century works by Crespi (Giuseppe Maria Crespi 1665-1747) or even earlier in splendid examples, in the middle of the seventeenth-century body, in the last production of Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn 1606-1669) and to some extent prefigured by the last production of Titian (Titian Vecellio 1488-1576). This sensitivity could only derive from the chromatic tradition of the Venetian area, which by its very nature tends to soften the volumes, as it happens at the same time in the Lombard area thanks to Leonardo’s influence, on the basis of the pictorial heritage of his stay in Milan, through the use of light and atmosphericity. Two sensibilities that detach themselves from those of central Italy, which is more concentrated on the volumes of the drawing, constituting the strongest, best known and most widespread vein of Italian tradition. A trend that we will find precisely in Magic Realism, but whose conceptual structure is already present in the first of the painters who consider himself modern and without whose experience and research Cubism would not have been born. I am obviously referring to Cezanne (Paul Cézanne 1839-1906), the first of the post-impressionists, who moved away from the fringed use of Impressionist colour to investigate the volumes and elementary forms hidden behind things. This aspect brings him closer to the Renaissance conceptual framework of central Italy, not only in his aesthetic search for volumetric synthesis, of which Piero Della Francesca was the most striking and excellent case, but also ideally since such an attitude hides the need for synthesis not only formal but also ideal, an attitude that already drove Renaissance painters, and in particular those of Michelangelo’s school, to the longing for harmonic perfection pursued through the golden rule of Hellenic memory.

Cezanne’s work is nourished by this search for ideal volumetric synthesis and for this reason he develops the need for a limited chromatic presence, which highlights the design and the form more, even the use of some blue borders, in some landscape elements, tend to amplify the sense of volume. This process of volumetric investigation is what gave rise to Cubism, which is no longer satisfied with the frontal Cezanian vision, but makes it explode in all its power showing the contemporaneity of the points of view in the space of representation, for the same reason also in all the first production of the work of Picasso (Pablo Picasso 1881-1973) and Braque (Georges Braque 1882-1963) the chromatic system is equally contained, otherwise it would risk to frustrate the volumetric construction or to weaken it.

I realize that the path I am outlining in these lines is, so to speak, a heretical reading of the artistic historiography that wants Cezanne and Picasso as two of the greatest advocates of modern art, authors who in my speech may instead appear more tied to the volumetric tradition whose structure has its roots in the strongest Italian Renaissance tradition and from which will unravel the dechirican Metaphysics first and the Magic Realism later. This link to tradition, however, does not diminish their revolutionary contribution, it simply represents the other side of that dichotomy between positivism and anxieties that are opposed to it and that, in some cases, arise from it. Already within the Enlightenment body, with its burning rationalist vitality, the dark anxiety of the Gothic is making its way, which will constitute an important part of the romantic expression, even if still imbued with the democratic-social Enlightenment ideals. Ideals that will evaporate in Symbolism and Decadentism that already feel the horrors of war that will mark the twentieth century and that they, through poetics and attitudes of social custom such as dandyism, attribute to the mediocrity and weakness of bourgeois thought, the same bourgeoisie that also promoted the century of enlightenment and the revolutions related to it.

I believe that the pictorial manifestations that have followed one another since the mid-nineties of the last century force us to a further reading of the previous artistic events, as always happens in the presence of new phenomena that pose different aspects, shedding new light on the events that preceded them. Historical events thus assume new meanings according to the temporal situation from which they are observed, a temporal situation that in those previous events has its roots and from which it draws its raison d’être and its physiognomy, in a dialogue that is by no means univocal, where not only the present events draw identity from what preceded them, but they themselves assign and highlight characteristics to that same past.

This new area, as mentioned, instead, continues an interrupted path that has undergone alternating phases within the body of the twentieth century as a result of its flattening on the positions of abstraction. This continuation has no citationist intent, it does not turn to painting, but to society and human and existential investigation. In this case, too, he continues the task of analysis and social thermometer that the nineteenth-century experiences had undertaken. The application and use of the material does not follow the expressive canons of that century, but rather continues them in a genuine intent of research that is not necessarily or always linked to the favors of the art market. As will be seen below, some of the exponents who will be reported are known and have found the favors of the market, while others are completely alien to it, which is anything but unusual as a result of what has been examined so far.

Certainly some of the issues dealt with here may seem contradictory, particularly those relating to the use of pictorial matter and for which the painting does not pretend to be anything other than itself, an aspect that could conflict with what we have argued about the dematerialization of art. Aspects that also include the presumed conceptual modernity inherent in the artistic panorama. For this reason, the following intervention will deal specifically with this theme, involving the human being and his evolution more deeply.

We will then try to trace those hereditary components that, in our view, have constituted the essential precedents of the new pictorial feeling, finally introducing some of the key figures of that same feeling.

– Danilo Santinelli

 

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