THE GREAT DIVORCE: ABSTRACTION AND EXPRESSIONISM IN THE 20TH CENTURY
Hilary Hope Guise, professor of art history, Florida State University, lecturer and artist
Friday 27 January
COURSE FEES R110
In the early twentieth century the time-honoured remit of the visual arts which had always reflected, captured and interpreted the fleeting world around us and gave permanence to its history, beliefs, people and dreams, was thrown out violently. The fragmentary nature of painting in this era is only too visible in the works of Picasso and Braque. Art critics, dealers, and the market soon put labels on these many ‘schools’ such as ‘constructivism’, ‘futurism’, ‘orphism’, and in England the belligerent voice of ‘vorticism’, which legitimised them. These ‘schools’ had to have manifestos – and these were usually linked closely to political movements; the constructivists were Bolshevik communists, the futurists in Italy were pro-war, and the founder of cubism, Picasso, was a card-carrying communist. Thus ‘modernism’ as seen in the works of these schools espoused an ideology that was contrary to the long Judeo-Christian traditions of Europe which were evident in paintings over centuries. Influences that came into Europe from outside were embraced with fervour, such as primitivism and Eastern mysticism, but also the revival of interest in the occult, and in spiritualism generally. The unprecedented destruction of the two world wars, especially the First World War, is reflected vividly in the art works of Kandinsky, Picasso and Malevich. The fact that many of the leading artists of the early twentieth century were involved closely and actively in the spread of theosophy, and its sub-cults, will be a new departure and a theme that will be explored in this lecture.