In a typical study of Modernism, books &
instructors tend to blend three important aesthetic strains ...
. . . creating one gargantuan octopus of "isms," "ists" and
colliding theories. They render Modern Art a beast of complexity,
especially at this point in the century.
In Romantic Modernism and post-Modernism, one
finds beauty and the sublime (the lineage of Claude Monet, the
Fauves, Mark Rothko, the color field painters and Frank Stella's
wall constructions), as well as the dark side of the psyche,
angst and melancholy (the lineage of Van Gogh, the early German
Expressionists, Jackson Pollock, the '80s Germans, Francis Bacon
Classical Modernism includes formalism of many
kinds—reductivism, geometric art, hard-edge, minimal, environmental
abstraction and postmodern abstraction. We include here: Cezanne,
Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly. The
Subversive Moderns produce confrontational art on the subjects
of victimization, the supremacy of high art (anti-art), psychology,
spiritualism, politics, racism, sexism, genocide, ecology, conceptual
art . . . art that subverts reality. Examples include: Marcel
Duchamp, Paul Klee, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Robert Rauschenberg,
John Cage, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein.
Who then, is the archetypal Romantic?
It is the person who operates on feeling first, reason later:
The highly imaginative, idealistic, fantastic, extravagant, impractical
sponge of sensation. The long-suffering victim. The dreamer of
dreams that lead entire countries into waves of idealism that
nearly everyone loves and most confuse with reality. It is one
side of each of us.
The Romantic is a blend of Cain, Satan, Prometheus,
Rousseau's "child of nature," the gloomy egoist, the gothic villain,
the noble outlaw, the melancholic, quasi-eratic rebel. It is
Clint Eastwood, Walter de Maria, Frida Kahlo, Spike Lee. Martin
Luther King, William Blake, Cesar Chavez and Christo. Mark Rothko,
Joan of Arc, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. Romantics are
phoenixes, continually reinventing themselves, lifting us with
them, or slamming us into the ground. We follow them to try to
understand ourselves. Wild courage and endlessly flowing creativity
are not given to us in the amounts we would like, so we find
them in great art. These elements in fact, carefully disciplined, make Great
The late 1980s and the 1990s is a romantic period
in history, swirling in the throws of upheaval and great shifts
in consciousness. Two hundred years ago, the American and the
French revolutions created a new kind of citizen: the free person.
The free person makes art in a different way from the King's
servant (Goya, Rubens, Velazquez), or the Pope's right-hand man
(Michelangelo, Raphael, Bramante). We now watch the creation
of the "free person" in the former USSR on television daily.
The near-impossible struggle to bring idealism and reality together
is the struggle of the romantic. The cliche "rules were made
to be broken" was first spoken by a romantic.
The classicist conversely, does not waste time
wrestling demons and breaking rules. Instead, this person seeks
them out. Rational systems, to this mind, erase the horror of "not
knowing." Formal religion, the patriarchal system, the far Left
and far Right, the justice system, the belief in absolute right
and wrong, the military and club mentalities all speak "truth" to
inner voices. To romantics, they are prisons.
Some romantics try to smother inner voices by
creating things or escaping into addictions. Others become crusaders,
obsessed with sublimity, beauty and an abstract passion for good.
Intertwined with the concept of personal freedom, the belief
that the conscious mind cannot know when the transitory, internal
brightness of the mind-in-creation will appear or depart underlies
all of romantic activity for the last three hundred years. Susan
Rothenberg, a painter working in Galisteo, described drawing
as "moving my hand on the paper . . . like a Ouija board." And,
Van Gogh said, "Paintings have a life of their own that derives
entirely from the painter's soul." Jackson Pollock said, "The
modern artist, it seems to me, is working and expressing an inner
world in other words--expressing the energy, the motion and other
in Santa Fe
In Summer 1994, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa
Fe mounted an exhibition bringing masterworks to the Museum.
Appropriately for New Mexico, the exhibition's focus and title
were Romantic Modernism, 100 Years. Much art produced
in New Mexico follows the romantic tradition. At mid-century,
Transcendentalism was important here, with Raymond Jonson leading
it. Also, Georgia O'Keeffe caused romantic modernism to become
the most popular aesthetic in New Mexico.
The subject of this exhibition was the person
searching his/her soul. The paintings gave us fleeting evidence
of that search. In most cases, either agitated brush work or
the human visage—the map of feeling—created physical/psychic
energy. This is the energy of life, its pulse, its sound. Romantic
art turns the volume up; classical art turns it down. The exhibit
began not with the work of Jos. Mallord William Turner, Delecroix,
Manet or Cezanne, as most modern histories do. It began instead,
with Claude Monet, the painters' painter.
Monet dared to make paintings of colored light.
He invented mural-scale abstraction. His late works and the dynamic,
beautifully abstract gestural fields predicted the entire movement
of abstract expression to come fifty years later. Willem De Kooning's
paintings are lyrical color symphonies indebted to Monet, as
are Morris Louis' and others. Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Edvard
Munch, Wassily Kandinsky and the Fauves also stand at the beginning
20th century romanticism.
The romantic's goal—to return imagination
to the world—was also the Museum's goal with this