Art and changing tastes

The New Atlantis » Reality and the Postmodern Wink

something in me wants to remain true to my adolescent vision. The beauty I imagined I also saw, and could not have seen without Rothko’s aid. But I do not see it today, and wonder how much it was the product of the stress of adolescence, and of the strange, still atmosphere of the Whitechapel Gallery in those days when so few people visited it, and when those few were all in search of redemption from the world outside. Now that modern art has been cheapened and mass-produced, to become part of that outside world of commercial titillation, it is harder to see Rothko as I saw him then.

To some extent this dilemma is an artifact of modernism itself, whose most salient characteristics are the feeling of liberation from traditional restraints and the exaltation of the artist at the expense of his subject. Both things have by their nature a relatively brief shelf life in the aesthetic marketplace. After the modernist revolution around the turn of the twentieth century, it only took a couple of generations before both freedom and the phenomenon of the artist-hero could be taken for granted. Nobody cares about the traditional restraints anymore or remembers when anyone but the artist was the hero of his own creation. Though the culture is still committed to these once-revolutionary doctrines, the thrill of the revolution itself is long past.