Uncertainty: Modernity and Art
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Saturday, March 13, 2010
Uncertainty: Modernity and Art (49:00)
Instead of offering an idealized or ennobled vision of humankind, modern art—an instrument of the tumultuous 20th century—communicates chaos, anxiety, and above all, uncertainty. In this program, Matthew Collings contrasts the works of Pablo Picasso with the abstracts of Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian and the architecture of Le Corbusier; tells how the Nazis tried to eradicate modern art’s uncertainties with some crushing certainties of their own; and shows how modern art’s relationship with modern life changed—first with the rise of Abstract Expressionism, then with Pop Art. The program also stretches into contemporary art to ask: What can we still believe in? And is Western civilization nearing its end? Original broadcast title: Uncertainty. (49 minutes)
Greek Art (00:49)
Greek statues reflect back to Man an idealized version of himself--with a spark of divinity within.
What Is Modern Art? (00:56)
Modern art is contemporary society's version of the Delphic Oracles. Art has its own memory of itself, its own psychic strata. Modern art documents the metamorphosis of mankind.
Tate Modern Exhibits (00:42)
One of the Tate's often misunderstood pieces is a sculpture made of 120 bricks laid out in a rectangle. Tate Modern gets 5 million visitors a year. In the Tate, art moves from the margins of social life to the center.
Modern Art and Modern Life (00:55)
Modern Art is a tradition that revs up in the late 19th century. It takes off in the early 20th century. Modern Art keeps responding to modern life.
20th-Century Modern Art (01:26)
The early 20th century was marked by speed and mass production, yet this feels shallow for many people. Life becomes fragmented. Picasso made art as an antidote to mass culture.
Hitler's "Degenerate Art" Show (00:56)
In the early 1930s, Nazism, a new political force, says restless questioning is out, and total power is in. Modern art is to Nazism degenerate and impure. In the Nazi regime, no one will be uncertain.
Nature of Reality (01:13)
In modern life, people live in doubt, and one is never sure of one's true identity. Reality is different jostling points of view colliding together.
Nazi Art (01:15)
Hitler stages annual exhibitions of Nazi art. It is the radical presence clothed in a golden age. Teutonic superheroes are fervent patriots. Nazi families are full of Aryan purity.
Picasso and Cubism (01:10)
Modern art has become an icon for moral goodness. Picasso's "Guernica" is anti-German, but also illustrates fractured reality. Cubism fights anything recognizable or rounded.
Abstract Art (01:14)
In abstract art, surface appearances, the look of the world, is left behind. Abstract artists present an experiment, one in which the viewer participates. Abstract art asks questions, and it provides no answers.
Modern Materialists (00:56)
Modern materialists get happiness from the urban environment--to delight in its elegance and shimmer. Mondrian's straight lines, rectangles, and flat colors are all there in the look of the modern world.
Piet Mondrian (00:58)
Mondrian is no living in the material world, but rather lives in the immaterial world. He tests the idea that society can be perfected. He experiments with a search for purity.
Modular Man (00:49)
Living spaces take on the appearance of a Mondrian painting. People live in modular homes, have modular experiences, and live modular lives.
Abstract Expressionism (01:11)
Among the abstract expressionists are Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Abstract expressionism invites viewers to look into the void. The artists were outcasts because they could not accept the values of consumerism.
Artist: Willem de Kooning (01:08)
Willem de Kooning's style is characterized by a battered, compacted look. Every stroke of the brush is a morally fraught one. The message: You must do something, but there will be no guidance.
Mark Rothko Paintings (01:39)
A Mark Rothko painting is a looming void, the edges fuzzy, and an incredible vibration of color. Bigness, broadness, and high energy coming at audiences can be something heroic in abstract expressionism, but the morality is relentless.
1960s Consumerism (01:06)
In the 1960s, consumerism is the dominating value. Money wins. People reflect themselves back to themselves through material objects. There is a change from the belief in higher values of the 1950s.
Pop Art (01:01)
Pop art represents a change in thinking from the 1950s to the 1960s. Pop art is people looking at their own disillusionment.
Andy Warhol and Uncertainty (01:12)
Andy Warhol's larger-than-life portraits of Elvis holding a gun gives an audience pause for thought. Five hundred years ago, painting was about saints and religion. Why Elvis?
Purpose of Pop Art (01:05)
Pop art suggests that things and people are thrown away because things keep changing. Pop artists wanted to be the opposite of everything that has gone before.
Comment on Established Values (01:14)
In Trafalgar Square is a statue of "Modern Woman," born without arms and stubs for legs. The statue is in the company of British heroes, and is an ironic comment on established values--values we can no longer believe in.
Art History: Aspiration to Uncertainty (01:26)
In the past, art expressed aspirational ideals that were slightly unreal. People recognized in art a better version of themselves. Today, people wonder if there is a better self at all.
Art as Mirror for Audience (01:17)
In the past, art gave hope to audiences. Today art mirrors what people are on the level they are already at. Art is about impulse, whim, and casualness. Audiences are wary of such art, yet it is a mass fascination.
China: The Hyperpresent (01:04)
China's economy grows at 10% per year. China has 20 or the world's 30 most polluted cities. From propaganda art, China's art has rushed to embrace Western avant gardism.
Art of Contemporary China (00:58)
A 1950s designed factory for making military weapons parts is now an art center. The old ideology remains in fading red characters on the walls.
Isolation and Globalization (00:44)
Because of market forces, the world is more interconnected, yet everyone in it seems less connected with others and with themselves. The answer to all questions is summed up in one word: consume.
Chinese Identity and Westernization (00:54)
A Chinese photographer's images echo Western civilization. Traditional images are re-staged to express new global conditions. The Chinese experience a loss of identity as they respond to Westernization.
Greek Values: Today's Illusions (01:02)
In art today, one questions whether the values once expressed so nobly in Greek statues are really only illusions. People are only what consumerism tells them they are.
Art and Consumerism (01:15)
Painter Watteau left a message for future art audiences. In a painting showing the rising elite in an art gallery, one man sneers at nude figures, a women looks into a mirror instead of at the paintings.
Art: Point of Despair (01:58)
As the film host walks through a staged recreation of war images, he questions whether art is at a point of despair. Is there anything left to believe in?
Journey of Art (01:30)
Film host Matthew Collings sums up the journey art has taken through human uncertainty. What is the message of art today? Answers lie within, not without.