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Thursday, Mar 18, 2010
by PopMatters Staff
by Wendy Steiner
Lapham's Quarterly (Spring 2010)

“Every age construes beauty somewhat differently, but it has seldom if ever happened that the arts have rejected it outright. But that is what happened in artistic practice and theory throughout much of the twentieth century. The great modernist innovators had little interest in providing their audience with uplifting experiences, gratification, or transcendent joy, or any of the benefits previously assigned to beauty. They were intent instead on questioning all assumptions from the past, expressing the unprecedented speed and violence of twentieth-century life, provoking, disorienting, shocking. With these aims, the beautiful, which Immanuel Kant had described in terms of harmony, symmetry, and balance, could only seem retrograde and counterproductive. If we speak at all of the beauty of modernist art, we mean something entirely different from what Keats—or Plato or Vitruvius or Oscar Wilde—had in mind.”


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