As an artistic movement, classical modernism, which emerged at the peak of commercial society, exemplified opposition and rebellion. Its audacity provoked scandal and offence among middle-class audiences, eliciting public outrage and attracting the attention of law enforcement, who fervently sought to suppress the dissemination of its literature and dismantle its exhibitions. Modernism brazenly offended the sensibilities of its time by deliberately challenging the prevalent principles governing reality and representation that permeated middle-class society at the turn of the 20th century. In a broader context, it clashed violently with the elaborate Victorian furniture, defied the era’s moral taboos, and vehemently rejected the norms of polite society.

Nonetheless, it is of the utmost importance to recognize that implicit danger and explosiveness existed beneath the explicit political content embedded in the grand oeuvres of superior modernisms. These works contained subversive elements that subtly undermined the prevailing order and societal norms of their time period. Picasso and Joyce, who were once considered strange and repugnant, are now regarded as timeless classics, transcending their initial capacity to shock and provoke controversy. Due to their enduring relevance, they have come to represent a realism that profoundly resonates with modern audiences.

Nonetheless, the transformation of perception has significant consequences. The revered classics of high modernism are now subject to veneration and scholarly scrutiny in educational institutions, becoming integral parts of the so-called artistic canon. In paradoxical fashion, this process has served to diminish their former subversive capacity. The more these formerly radical masterpieces are dissected and taught, the less they are able to challenge and disrupt societal sensibilities. In fact, the act of canonization itself fosters a sense of familiarity, thereby taming artistic expressions that were once diametrically opposed to prevalent ideas.

I find myself reflecting on the transformative nature of time and its enduring impact on art. Modernism’s ascent from a marginal and reviled position to the center of artistic discourse exemplifies society’s ever-changing tastes and perceptions. What was once considered offensive and disruptive can eventually be embraced and even venerated. This evolution exemplifies the adaptability of artistic appreciation as well as humanity’s ability to reinterpret and reevaluate cultural artifacts.

However, it is crucial not to overlook the inherent value of art’s subversive and disruptive characteristics. Modernism in its original form was a catalyst for profound change, relentlessly challenging established norms and expanding artistic expression’s boundaries. Despite the fact that the canonization of these works may diminish some of their initial potency, it is essential to recognize their historical significance and the pivotal role they played in shaping the course of art itself.

At its core, the transformative journey of modernism challenges our conventional notions of beauty, compelling us to confront the inherent subjectivity of artistic appreciation and the ever-changing criteria by which artistic merit is evaluated. Academic institutions now study and celebrate works that once elicited shock and disgust. This raises the question of what has changed. Has the artwork itself changed, or has society’s perception of it shifted significantly?

This investigation delves into the intricate relationship between art and society. Modernism arose as a reaction to the cultural, social, and political climate of its time, seeking to challenge the prevailing status quo, disrupt complacency, and inspire introspection. Middle-class audiences’ initial hostility and rejection reveal the discomfort and resistance provoked by radical departures from prevalent artistic conventions.

However, as societal attitudes and cultural landscapes changed over time, modernism gradually earned its place in the canon of art. This process highlights the symbiotic relationship between art and society, in which each entity exerts influence on the other. The acceptance of formerly scandalous works is indicative of a broader shift in values and sensibilities, as well as an appreciation for their artistic and cultural significance.

The canonization of modernist masterpieces is not, however, devoid of concerns. As these works become enshrined in the institutional framework of schools and universities, their original disruptive power risks being diminished. Analysis and academic dissection have the potential to ossify these once-radical expressions, relegating them to the status of merely study objects as opposed to active agents of change.

Additionally, the canonization of modernism raises concerns about the homogenization and standardization of artistic expression. As certain works attain the status of classics, they eclipse marginalized voices and artistic movements and dominate the conversation. This perpetuates a particular aesthetic and limits artistic exploration, potentially stifling innovation and limiting the artistic expression kaleidoscope.

The emergence of modernism and its subsequent canonization invite philosophical reflection on the nature of rebellion and its complex relationship with the established order. Modernism, in its infancy, posed a provocative challenge to prevailing principles and norms, attempting to dismantle the dominance of middle-class society by providing alternative modes of representation and expanding the boundaries of artistic expression.

As these works are assimilated into the canon, however, their disruptive power diminishes. The acts of preservation and institutionalization paradoxically moderate the radical nature that once made them revolutionary. This raises profound questions about the inherent tensions between innovation and tradition, as well as between challenging the status quo and being absorbed by it.

When considering the evolution of modernism and its subsequent canonization, we are compelled to question the function of art in modern society. Once art becomes a part of the established canon, can it still retain its subversive and oppositional qualities? Or does its influence diminish as it becomes integrated into the cultural fabric? Only through such critical reflection can we navigate the complex relationship between art and society and foster an environment that fosters the revolutionary and transformative potential of artistic endeavors.

Clement Greenberg, “Art and Culture: Critical Essays” (United States)
Peter Gay, “Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond” (United States)
Michael Levenson, “The Cambridge Companion to Modernism” (United Kingdom)
Malcolm Bradbury, “Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930” (United Kingdom)
Terry Eagleton, “The Illusions of Postmodernism” (United Kingdom)
Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” (United States)
Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, “Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas” (United Kingdom)
David Hopkins, “After Modern Art: 1945-2000” (United Kingdom)
Hal Foster, “The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century” (United States)
Rosalind Krauss, “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths” (United States)