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YURI BOREV

AESTHETICS

AESTHETICS: THE THEORETICAL HISTORY OF ART
The Science of the Process of Art

MODERNIST TRENDS (CRITICAL SURVEY)

Expressionism: An Alienated, Confused Man in a Hostile World

In the early 20th century Germany saw the rise of a movement against the prevalent academism in the art of the time. It was initiated by architecture students Kirchner, Bleyl, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff and others who formed a group called Die Brucke (The Bridge) in Dresden in 1905. None of the group's members had any experience of painting and their experiments in art were, by their own admission, "an explosion of will and faith". The revolt they started led to the birth of expressionism, a new trend in art.
That trend did not concern itself with theoretical manifestoes. Its name was given to it not by its members but by critics who singled out emotional expressiveness as its dominant feature. Expressionism was a response to the acute contradictions of the time and marked the protest of the individual against total alienation which had by that time clearly manifested itself. Expressionism regarded technological progress as a scourge, a horror, a historical monster, a danger. It was a fruit of social disenchantment. It simplified forms, introduced new rhythms and was wedded to intense colours and exaggerated emotionalism.
The hallmarks of the expressionist theatre are a hallucinatory vision, extremes in everything; rapid succession of episodes, contrasting mise-en-scenes; active but individualistic political protest. Expressionism's hero is driven by powerful emotions in a restless world torn by passions. The artistic symbol and image of expressionism is Munch's picture The Cry. It shows a man in a conventionalized urban environment screaming with horror. The gaping abyss of his mouth is the picture's compositional focus. What makes this man scream? The artist does not show any real or visible threat to him leaving the beholder to imagine some universal cause of horror, pain and suffering. The world at large is hostile to the individual as such whatever the individual's qualities. We see a "man without qualities"; his only link with the world is horror at its imperfections, disharmonies and inhumanities. The space around the screaming mouth is organized to create an image of spreading ripples: the soul-piercing shriek spreads in concentric circles all over the world, and fills it. But the world is deaf and unresponsive; it does not notice the terrible scream, it is indifferent to the pain experienced by the individual who is helpless in the face of formidable reality. Munch's picture seems to say that man in the alien world can only scream about his pain, scream without any hope of help, like a living creature in torment.
Fragmentation is the leading aesthetic category of expressionism. It opposes an individual bewildered by the chaotic world incapable of forming harmonious relationships to the integral individual portrayed by realistic art. That side of expressionism is particularly manifest in painting and drawing, for example in Kokoschka's painting Herwarth Walden.
Present-day Western scholars and critics see expressionism as a response to the threat of destruction facing mankind. And they argue that because that threat has infinitely grown with the advent of nuclear weapon, expressionism is bound to prevail over all other trends.
Franz Marc, an expressionist artist and theorist, has come out with a thesis that in the face of the modern confusion of minds the only way to become pure is to isolate oneself and one's cause. The principle of isolated life paved the way both for the objectless art of abstractionism which flees reality and the ideas of the individual's essential loneliness underlying existentialism.
Friedrich, a young sculptor in Die Wandlung (Metamorphosis), an expressionist novel by the German writer Toller, is lonely and dreams of the brotherhood of man. But in his quests he runs into alienation and hostility of the people around him. When a colonial war begins Friedrich signs up as a volunteer to go to the front. He is shaken by the suffering and death. He feels that his enthusiasm about the war had been misguided. But the war goes on.Friedrich, one of the few survivors, is wounded and laid up at a hospital. In due course the enemy is defeated. The "liberation army" has fulfilled its mission and Friedrich is decorated with an Iron Cross. Back home he resumes his artistic activities and receives an order to make a monument to celebrate "the victory of the Fatherland". He makes a huge statue of a naked man with clenched fists raised in the air. The statue is meant to symbolize the might of a "liberation army". But one day Friedrich meets a crippled war invalid begging in the street and he recognizes him as his wartime buddy. Shaken by that encounter, the sculptor smashes his statue and wants to kill himself. His sister stops him. Friedrich goes to a factory to meet workers. He becomes friends with these work-weary people and preaches the ideas of brotherhood to them. The appeal for brotherhood is a romantic dream, a pacifist Utopia. Expressionism's scream against the madness of war and the grinding meaninglessness of life is a scream of pain and impotence.
Franz Kafka, a major exponent of expressionism, was one of the first writers to become aware that man is a victim of the social institutions he has himself created and which have gone out of control: a person may be suddenly brought to trial, he may be spied on by other people who represent some dark and mysterious forces (The Trial); he may become aware that he has no rights and spend the rest of his life vainly trying to secure permission to live in this world (The Castle). Kafka's writings offer no glimmer of hope. His novella Der Jäger Gracchus (The Hunter Gracchus) has all the main features of the expressionist conception of man. Gracchus is "suspended" in midair between being and non-being: he is neither alive nor dead, he is neither in this world nor in the other world. A thousand and a half years after his death, Gracchus sails about at the mercy of the winds, without direction, in the nether world. Once, when he calls at a port, the hunter is visited by a man who asks him to tell him briefly but coherently what had happened to him. To this Gracchus replies that he can see no coherence in the phenomena of the world and in the thoughts of men although they keep shouting about the interconnection of all and sundry.
Shakespeare's Hamlet was tragically aware that the times were "out of joint". Kafka's character denies any coherence, even coherence in expressing one's thoughts. Expressionism argues that the world is inherently chaotic and space and time are disjointed. Solitary Gracchus is totally divorced from the world making irrelevant the contradiction between "self" and reality, between life and death. Gracchus is leading an existence that denies life and reality.
In Kafka's story Metamorphosis a young man, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into an ugly insect. This fantastic metamorphosis occurs in very real mundane circumstances and is described with dry impartiality and detachment. Gregor's body has no hands but has a lot of legs which do not obey him very well. So he cannot get up and open the door to his parents who are worried by his absence and to the man sent in by the landlord. Gregor is particularly pained because the people close to him do not understand what is happening to him, but he keeps hoping that someone would be able to help him. However, all his attempts to make contact with people and explain his situation and make himself understood fail.
Slavic folklore may be of some help in understanding the underlying message of Kafka's Metamorphosis. A folk tale called The Pink Flower tells about a youth who is turned into a monster. But the monster meets a girl who appreciates the kind soul behind his ugly looks and falls in love with him. Love transforms the monster bringing back his human look. In the folk tale transformation occurs twice: the youth becomes a hideous monster, and then the monster becomes a handsome youth. The cause and catalyst of the second metamorphosis is human sympathy, compassion and love. In the world described by Kafka the metamorphosis is irreversible, it can only be for the worse and a man gets no sympathy. Man is lonely and even his relatives and friends unwittingly betray him and abandon him to the mercy of fate. Gregor Samsa dies because his loneliness is insuperable.
Kafka's The Village Doctor uses the story of the illness and death of a boy to comment on the problem of the meaning of life and the continuity of generations. If the boy had an aim in life, if he could answer the question "why live?" he would have been saved. He would also have stayed alive if an older man with professional skills could have answered the question tormenting the boy. But the world in which Kafka's characters live offers no answer to that question. The answer is in the method of perpetuating oneself in other people furnished by a humanistic culture. Orienting himself on the individual, Kafka could not find a way for the individual to join humanity, could not bring his boy into the historical process that would have given him the answer to the question about the meaning of life.
In expressionism's artistic conception, man lives in a hostile world from which there is no way out. There is no hope. The essential power of the individual is alienated from him and embodied in hostile social institutions. The expressionist artist seems to say through his works: "I want to be human but it is impossible, the world is hostile to the individual."

Surrealism: A Bewildered Man in a Mysterious and Unknowable World

The term "surrealism" was coined by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire who defined the genre of one of his plays as "surrealist drama". And in the 1920s and 30s the poets Breton and Soupault started a new trend in art which they called "surrealism". The theoreticians of surrealism hoped that it would create a new artistic reality, more real than the surrounding world.
Surrealism, they maintained, "rips off the veil" from the world, creates a reality of implausibility and a second, "genuine" reality, the surreality. Hence the exceptional importance attached to the miraculous which they made the key category of their aesthetic attitude to the world. "There is nothing but the miraculous" (Breton). The reality of the surreal, the genuineness of the mysterious, the incredibility of the quotidian become the artist's main preoccupations. As the French poet Paul Eluard said, there are as many marvels in a glass of water as in the ocean deep.
In surrealism man, the world, things and even space and time are fluid and relative and their boundaries are blurred. There is nothing definite, everything is distorted, displaced and hazy. The world is a chaotic mass of phenomena. So there are no borderlines between happiness and unhappiness, the individual and society. Surrealism's conception of the individual could be put in the following way: lam a human being but the boundaries of my personality and of the world are blurred. The individual does not know where his "self" begins and where it ends, where the world is and what it is. Surrealism invests the Universe with dramatic tension. A lonely man is confronted with a cold and mysterious world:

A philosophical butterfly
Alighted on a rosy star,
And that made a window to the inferno,
A masked man forever stands before a nude woman...

(Andre Breton)

Intuitivist surreal association between the artist and the world is the programme not only for the artist but for the audience as well, and for man in general. Intuitivism is the basis of the surrealist conception of the individual and of the artistic method of surrealism.
Surrealism proclaims the chaos of the world and tries to use artistic form to restore the broken order of things and men. It proclaims unlimited freedom for the artist's imagination, free of any logical constraints. Thus, the individual in the work of Salvador Dali is driven by Freudian complexes and perceives reality through the pelvic bone (this is how a landscape in one of his paintings is portrayed).
The trend is marked by irrational intellectualism, cold pseudo-emotionality, rationalistic anaesthesia of feelings and the wish to "desentimentalize" reality. Instead of emotions there is a parade of the means of conveying them.
Surrealism refuses to control the artistic process and indeed the individual as such by any moral norms, it seeks to clean the individual of the social, moral and individual "husk", proclaiming aversion to social life.
The poetic principle of surrealism is super-metaphor. Metaphor is assigned absolute value and is carried to startling lengths when the most unlikely objects are likened and similes are capricious and arbitrary. Originality of images verges on mannerism. Poems read like an encyclopedia of metaphors. A. Breton wrote in one of his works that a comparison of two objects maximally remote from each other or any other mode of presenting them in an exciting and startling form is the foundation of the highest poetry. The poetic toolkit of surrealism includes alogical montage, nonsemantic juxtapositions, irrational connection of sentences, words, visual impressions. The ideal model of a surrealist image is the meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operation table. The predilection of surrealism to alogical metaphors produces colourfully enigmatic and mysteriously shifting images:

Nature has fallen into the nets of your life,
The tree, your shadow, lays bare its flesh: the sky.
It has the voice of sand and the gestures of wind.
And everything you say breathes behind you.

(Paul Eluard)

Surrealism is inconcrete and unhistorical as a matter of principle. St. John Perse claimed that he had evolved as an artist separately from his time and its laws and that he sought to avoid any historical and geographical references. Reality disappears, it flows away like the clock in Dali's picture The Whims of Memory flows off a table. Time and space become diffused. History disappears.
Surrealism argues that the historical process does not exist and that time is unhistorical: indifference to history (Char); there is no history except the history of the soul (Perse); indifference to everything in the world (Breton).
Common sense has no place in the art of surrealism, the artist deals with illusions, fantasy, dreams, miracles which supposedly constitute the sphere of freedom.
The slumber of reason, immersion in the "wave of dreams" (early Louis Aragon), the intuitive element, associative, "automatic" writing (Breton) are the principles of the surrealist. "Surrealism. Pure psychic automatism.... Dictation of thought in the absence of any control on the part of Reason, outside any aesthetic or moral preoccupation".1
A century and a half after the philosophy of Kant surrealism formulated artistically the idea of transcendence, proclaiming the existence of a super reality behind the real phenomena. This artistic trend makes polysemy of imaginative thought infinite and carries it to the point of artistic agnosticism.

Existentialism: A Lonely Man in an Absurd World

Existentialism in art is based on the concept of the absurdity of life most fully expressed in the work of Albert Camus. His novel La peste (The Plague) has a strange protagonist, Cottard, who rejoices in the misfortunes and calamities that befall a city. How can a person be glad that plague is killing his fellow citizens and may not spare himself? Before long we learn that Cottard is wanted by the police and but for the epidemic he would have been arrested and put on trial. A universal calamity diverting the blind state bureaucracy from the execution of its routine duty saves Cottard from the looming threat: he was already being shadowed by some anonymous, faceless types. The natural picture of a plague-stricken city and the context of a philosophical novel is invaded by unreal creatures, phantoms born of mystical other-worldly forces. These ghosts threaten and hound poor Cottard. This is a quotation from another work expounding a whole system of artistic thought.
The address to which the French author sends us is not far to seek. It is Kafka's novel The Trial. Both Kafka and Camus show victims of an anonymous organization squeezed into a Procrustean bed of norms devoid of human content. The character of Cottard, who prefers plague to being pursued by anonymous forces, is Camus' attempt to interpret the recent past:between the dates of the writing of The Trial and The Plague lies the dark shadow of fascism. The insecurity of man in the face of hostile forces opposed to humanity is most dramatically manifested in a fascist state.
The question suggests itself, why the dreamlike images of Kafka which seem to be alien to the rationalistic manner of Camus are so much at home in his novel? Because there is a line of succession from Kafka to Camus. Existentialism has its sources in expressionism, and its philosophical origins go back to the theories of Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher.
The existentialist conception of the historical process is laid out in the play L 'Etat de Siege by Albert Camus. Trouble breaks out in a city: a comet appears in the sky and people are worried by the ill omen. The ruler climbs the rostrum to calm the citizenry citing the principle of his government which is that everything should remain unchanged. A strange man and woman approach the platform. The stranger declares that he wants to take power in his hands. On the ruler's order, two guardsmen try to arrest the newcomers but the woman produces a notebook and crosses out two names. The guards drop dead. In panic, the ruler leaves the city and the stranger who calls himself Plague declares that he has come to rule the city, that he would put an end to the disorderly and disorganized fashion in which people lived and died. Plague brings to the city a fascist order, the order of Auschwitz.
A townsman by the name of Diego leams Plague's secret: he is all-powerful and can destroy everyone but he is helpless if people stop being afraid of him. Diego leads his fellow citizens in a rebellion. Plague strikes thousands of people off the list of the living but new rebels fearlessly continue the struggle. Plague then resorts to a stratagem. He throws away his notebook. A passer-by who finds the book crosses out the names of his enemies; another citizen takes the notebook away from him and crosses out the latter's name and several of his enemies. Thus discord creeps into the rebel ranks. Diego gets hold and disposes of the evil book and the rebels close their ranks. Plague resorts to another trick. He offers Diego a choice: he would leave the city on condition that either Diego or his girl die; or they would both leave the city while he remains. This situation models a key existential premise: man realises himself in free choice and that is the only form in which the individual can realise himself in an absurd world. Characteristically, the play, which lays out the existentialist conception of history, has the individual facing a choice between bad and worse; according to Camus, history has no happy way out for the individual.
Diego chooses his own death. His girl sits by his bedside and they see through the window how Plague is leaving the city and the old ruler, who had betrayed his people, returns to take his place. Instead of a common death for all in the gas chamber there returns the old diversity of deaths, and instead of equality in rightlessness in the face of Plague there are the old inequalities between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the disfranchised. Diego's girl reproaches him: "Ten thousand years of the city's life are not worth ten years of our love." Diego knows himself that his choice is unhappy but there is no better choice.
The idea the play puts across is that life goes in circles, with history proceeding from bad to worse in order to return to bad again. There is no upward movement, there is the squirrel's wheel of history in which the life of mankind rotates meaninglessly. That constitutes existentialism's historical conception.
The concept of absurdity on the personal and mundane, as opposed to the global level, is set out in Camus' play entitled Le Malentendu (Misunderstanding) (1941). The plot is simple; a mother and her daughter Martha keep a provincial inn and dream of saving enough money to be able to move to a big city. Martha tries to persuade her mother to murder a lodger in order to get rich. The mother hesitates but Martha prevails upon her and they poison the guest. In the morning the dead man's wife arrives and from her they learn that the man was Martha's brother Jean who had left home long ago in search of fortune. Having come into wealth and married, Jean decided to rescue his mother and sister from their stick-in-the-mud place. Feeling lonely, Jean wanted to be recognized at home as their kin and in this way break his loneliness. But things turned out otherwise and Jean died.
The money which the inn-keepers wanted to get by crime was already coming their way. Camus in this play seems to put a case in favour of passivity: action inherently negates the goal for the sake of which it is undertaken. Loneliness, according to Camus, is absolute: all human ties have been severed and even a mother can be an accomplice in the murder of her son.
For Camus, as for existentialism as a whole, the whole world, the whole of human society is a "misunderstanding", an absolute absurdity. People are basically lonely, isolated and doomed to mutual misunderstanding. Every person is a world into himself. But these worlds are not linked to one another. Communication is superficial and does not affect the depth of the soul, that is why it fails to break loneliness. This sums up the existentialist conception of man and the world.
Camus addresses his work to the "millions of loners". That social position has been prompted by egocentrism, the formalistic, mechanical uniting of people, the creation of a complex state machine which devours human souls. The associations people have formed suppress the individual and grind the personality. This type of association of men causes the existentialists to want to withdraw into themselves. Instead of looking for genuine human foundations and forms of unity existentialist artists have committed themselves to disunity, maintaining that people are inevitably separated from each other.
The fundamental loneliness proclaimed by existentialism logically leads to the meaninglessness of life. Life is not absurd as long as there are links between people, as long as man finds his extension in humanity. But if a man is alone, if he is the only value in the world, then he is socially worthless, he has no future, and death is absolute. It erases man. Life is robbed of its meaning.
Plague in Camus' novel of that title is a telling and many-sided symbol. It is not only a disease but a particularly cruel order of human life. At the same time Plague is death dormant within life. It may wake up one day and despatch hordes of its servants – dying rats – into the streets of a sunlit city. The unknown is dreadful and inexorable, it is always near. Man is everywhere followed by the breath of death. Existentialism is sure that man is unable to change the world, but it is necessary to act in order to realize the freedom of will and not feel a slave to the drudgery of daily life.
The main features of the existentialist artistic method are: intellectualism, artistic modelling of situations dramatising the author's conception, a high degree of convention, a gap between ethics and aesthetics (Sartre, for example, excludes the category of conscience from the spiritual world of his characters). In the theatre of the absurd (Samuel Beckett) which carries on the existentialist tradition, absurdity is not only the content but the artistic form of the play: characters talk past each other and their non-communication makes the artistic text incoherent. The stylistics of existentialist art is the analysis of the world clouded by waves of the irrational.

Abstractionism: The Individual's Escape from Banal and Illusory Reality

Abstractionism is colour fantasy, spontaneous and impulsive self-expression, a momentary record of the state of the artist's soul, and a conscious renunciation of artistic cognition of the individual and the world, of the portrayal of reality and the pursuit of pure expressiveness.
Abstractionism was born from later impressionism and postimpressionism. It rose from a transformation of the motley impressionist ideas about the world; its traces are first noticeable even in the work of Matisse.
In 1909 Kandinsky, a Russian painter and one of the founders of abstract art, produced a picture called Mountain. It shows an outline reminiscent of a mountain. But colour is used for pure expression without any pretence at representation. The painting marked the transition to configurational art.
Abstractionism came into its own as a distinct trend in painting and sculpture in 1912-13 in the work of Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian who sought refuge from life's contradictions by turning away from realities.
In Western art abstractionism burgeoned in the 50s to become popular among artists, critics and theoreticians of painting. Those years saw a widening gap between abstractionism and reality. One can clearly discern two trends within abstractionism. The first is psychological going back to Kandinsky's intuitive-emotional, "lyrical" abstractions illuminating a state of the human soul as if in a flash. Kandinsky created symphonies of colour which exerted an emotional impact similar to music.
The other trend in abstractionism is intellectual and its founder was the Dutch painter Mondrian. He tried to reveal the logic of beauty through geometrical abstractions. The geometrical abstractionism of Mondrian and his successors was all about combination of planes. Red, yellow and blue planes combined with uncoloured white planes to create a statically balanced, rhythmical and harmonious composition. The intellectual solutions proved meaningful for modern architecture, industrial design, for book design and interior decorations. A characteristic example is Mondrian's painting which represents a diamond-shaped canvas with two black lines of different thickness against an empty white background.
The opposition of representation and expressiveness, the reflected and active aspects of painting and sculpture is the starting premise of abstractionism.
Kandinsky saw natural forms as an obstacle to art. In his books On Spirituality in Art and The Point and the Line in a Plane he argues in the spirit of Platonian idealism that the model of society is a pyramid. At its base are materialistic and primitive people and at its summit, spiritual people. At the very pinnacle is the artist who guides minds and hearts (Plato reserved the pinnacle for philosophers). The artist, according to Kandinsky, always detaches his gaze from reality and directs it at himself, expressing himself. The abstractionists offer no value criteria to distinguish art from speculation, seriousness from joking, mastery from gimmickry. Among abstractionists were talented artists such as Kandinsky, Mondrian, Tallin and Malevich who left their mark on the art of the 20th century. They enriched the expressive palette and the rhythmical dynamic side of painting anticipating important plastic-space solutions in modern architecture and influencing the development of industrial design, applied and decorative art.
Abstractionism proclaims the break of the link between art and reality. The theorists of abstractionism feel that photography has usurped painting's representational function leaving it to express the subjective world of the artist. In making that assertion they forget that art photography has a different character of representation and different principles, opportunities and limits for artistic generalization than the other visual arts.
What is the social potential, the concept of the individual and the world advanced by abstractionism? "Objects have been killed by their signs", so painting must be objectless. Abstractionists take a sharply critical view of social reality that verges on complete repudiation of it. Abstractionism models an individual divorced from the world and from ideas whose freedom is arbitrariness of sensations, perceptions and self-expression. Kandinsky in presenting the theoretical case for abstractionism believed that a work of art is a construction utilising all possible forms and colours and adapting form to inner meaning. Thereby Kandinsky put absolute value on self-expression. Herbert Read, an English art scholar, believes that abstractionism is an inevitable product of the present inhumane world. Read opposes alienation which destroys the individual to conscious estrangement of the individual from real life, escape into the diversity of colour blobs and lines, a worid of pure forms and colours. If reality destroys the individual, Read seems to be right: its salvation lies in escaping from the world. But any form of individual alienation from reality is but a form of link with it. The only way out is to humanize reality.

Pop Art. The Consumer: A Deideologized Individual
in a Mass Consumer Society

The term "pop art" (short for popular art) was coined by the critic Alloway in 1965. As an art trend, pop art consolidates the opposition between mass art and national art. Pop art is an artistic means to meet the "yearning for tangibility" generated by prolonged dominance of abstractionism in Western art. Some Western students of art indeed consider pop art to be a reaction to abstractionism. Pop art challenged the abstractionist refusal to perceive and portray reality by presenting the crude world of material objects to which it gives the status of art.
The theorists of pop art maintain that every object, when put in a certain context, becomes a work of art, loses its initial significance and acquires artistic qualities. Hence the artist's task is not to create an art object but to lend artistic qualities to an ordinary object by organizing a certain context in which the object is perceived. Aestheticization of the world of things is a principle of pop art. Pop artists try to achieve ready appeal by using the style of labels and advertising posters. Pop art is a composition of everyday objects sometimes combined with plaster casts and sculptures. Crashed cars, compositions of faded photographs, scraps of newspapers and posters glued onto boxes, a stuffed hen under a glass cap, a worn shoe painted white electric motors, combinations of old tires and gas stoves – such are the paraphernalia of pop art. Pop artists specialize in specific "genres". Chamberlain, for example, has a passion for smashed cars, Oldenburg prefers collage. Dine goes in for interior decorations Rauschenberg, having attended a stage design school, has retained a preoccupation with the problem of organizing objects in space that is so important in the art of the stage. He arranges objects in a pattern of "artistic chaos". Rauschenberg also introduced a style which is accompanied by sound tracks. His favourite method is a montage of photographs with scraps of newspapers, paintings and old objects. Pop art has a number of subtrends: op art (artistically organized optical effects, geometric combinations of lines and patches), el art (electric-driven objects and structures), environment art (compositions surrounding the viewer), etc.
Op art shifts the emphasis from the world of objects to the environment and the atmosphere surrounding man. A special aesthetic environment is created with the help of light and colour optical devices using lenses, mirrors, stroboscopes, vibrating metal plates and wires. That helps the artist to achieve a higher degree of abstraction from concreteness.
Op art linked pop art with the tradition of geometric abstractionism, with the Bauhaus school and constructivism. In 1963 a huge composition of shining copper wire was on display at the national museum in Washington. That typical op art work depicted the sun which was at the focus of a copper web, "the sky". The composition swayed gently from the slightest wiff of air with the thin copper threads producing a thousand colours.
In 1964 an exhibition of pop art was mounted at the national museum in Amsterdam next to the halls where Rembrandt's paintings hung. One of the specimens on display showed a three-leaved mirror standing against the wall with all the female dressing-table accessories laid out (perfume, powder compact, powder puff, a manicure set). In front of the mirror was a hassock. All the objects were real except the white plaster figure of a woman sitting on the hassock. She held a real comb in her hand with which she was combing her gypsum hair. The composition derives its tension from the contrast between real objects and the gypsum figure.
Another exhibit gives an idea of el art. A complex mechanism looking rather like a magnified version of a clock stands on a pediment in the middle of the hall. Only it is an infinitely more complex arrangement of wheels, gears, bolts and drives than one finds in an ordinary clock. Hidden inside the structure is an electric motor. The viewer approaches the work of art, presses a button thus participating with the author in the creative process. The contraption comes to life: the wheels begin to rotate, transmitting movement higher and higher until the thin pistil-like rod at the top begins to revolve slowly above the viewer's head. As it rotates, a little bell on its end produces a deliberately cracked sound. After completing a few circles the pistil comes to a standstill and the mechanism stops until the next viewer presses the button to set it in motion.
Some of pop art has influenced the design of consumer goods and elements of it are used in the lay-out of shop windows. Pop art has advanced its conception of the individual in the consumer society. Its ideal individual is an avid consumer of mass products whose ideology is furnished by the still lives of combinations of goods. Words substituted by goods, literature ousted by things, beauty replaced by utility, the thirst for material consumption replacing spiritual needs – this is pop art. That trend is consciously aimed at a mass uncreative individual devoid of independent thinking and borrowing "his" ideas from advertising and the mass media. Such an individual is programmed by pop art for fulfilling the assigned role of buyer and consumer who bears the alienating influence of modern civilization without a murmur.
Pop art acclaims a deideologized individual. As a rule it ignores social issues. The "father figure" of pop art, as he is dubbed in the USA, is Andy Warhol. He has embraced as his aesthetic principles such features of advertising as catchiness and stridency, banality, primitivism, appeal to the average individual and moulding of such an individual. Pop art's aestheticization and idealization of the material thing is not without precedent in art. One can recall.for example, the still lives of the "Little Dutchmen" who glorified the beauty of things. They poeticized objects that were products of man's creative work. Pop art celebrates an object of "mass consumption" in a "mass society". That leads to a fetish of consumption, a cult of the thing. This is the distinctive feature of pop art. By glorifying the consumer, pop art poeticizes either a thing that is to be mass produced or a thing that has been used by man (compositions of scrapped gas stoves, tires and dressing-tables).
Pop art makes no bones about advertising objects and asserting that civilization is geared to them. That is achieved through collage (as in Oldenburg's compositions) or with the help of interior designs (for example, a spade suspended on a chain in Dine's Kitchen). Another advertizing trick of pop art is to show an old, worn and broken thing in order to promote new goods by contrast. The aesthetics of pop art then is always the utilitarian aesthetics, sometimes nihilistic but all the same promoting the fetish of the thing.
One branch of pop art comes close to the searches and social nihilism of "the new left" who find the meaning of life in wholesale rejection and its aim in universal and collective ecstasy. The most-popular arts with "the new left" are those that work the audience into a frenzy of delight which they believe offers emotional release for "revolutionary potential" restrained by the daily environment in an act of revolt against all forms of alienation. It is not by chance that pop music with its impact on the mass audience is increasingly a model of the social functioning of art. There is a scene in Antonioni's film Blow-Up which portrays the collective orgy of pop music fans. The youth audience gradually warms up to the mad rhythms, the expression, the assault of the pop musicians on their senses. Their heads, shoulders and arms begin moving in time with the music. The movement grows until the audience is caught in a mass ecstasy, eyes shining with the delight of being involved in a collective act of revolt. They yell and scream. One of the musicians is so carried away that he begins slapping his guitar until it breaks. He then throws it away and the crowd of frenzied teenagers scramble for it. The film's hero, literally at the risk of his life, snatches the finger board and runs towards the exit pursued by pop fans. When he breaks away from his pursuers he looks at the useless fetish in cold surprise and throws it on the pavement where it lies under the feet of indifferent passers by. The episode in Antonioni's film highlights the essence of "aesthetic revolt" as a means of involving the youth in the orgy of "mass consumption" and mass alienation.
Even the anarchic revolt of the hippy through phoney rejection of materialism is but a negative form of the consumer mentality: man can only reveal himself through his attitude to things. It is a temporary protest which is expected to end with the return of the prodigal son to the paternal embrace of consumerism.

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