Cycles of Change

Winter_SunsetThe year has turned. We spent New Years with family near the ocean, accompanied by warmth, both emotional and physical, and much good cheer. Yesterday was New Years Day, and we celebrated by following our Sunday routine when with family: breakfast, conversation, and newspapers. We then drove the five hours home. 

This morning I am listening to BBC Radio Three, and their week-long exploration of the Second Viennese School of music. The composers under discussion influenced me greatly when I discovered them in the middle Sixties; they include Berg, Schoenberg, Webern, and a good many others. These folks, mostly male of course, revolutionized “serious” music at the turn of the last century. Only after the ruckus died down was the musical world able to see the continuity within the apparent destruction.

I’m also reading a lovely book, In Montmartre by Sue Roe, a lively walk through the visual arts revolution that took place at about the same time in Paris. The book focuses as much on continuity as on disturbance, while carefully explicating the development of Fauvism and Cubism. Very much as was true among the composers in Vienna, there was much competition, conversation, and just plain copying taking place among the artists who lived, worked, and played on the hillside overlooking the heart of Paris. As I read (I am up to 1904 or so) I am reminded of the “revolution” that would take place among the Abstract Expressionists in NYC some fifty years later.

Revolutions appear to arise from nowhere; only after the passage of some time do we begin to understand them as having arisen from social/historical field. At some point we begin to realize that some form of upheaval was built into the very social fabric, and that what appears to be a revolution is simply the flourishing, for good or ill, of that which had been gestating for a while. I wonder how we will view of the rise of extremism in the US and elsewhere in a few years. Will we still see it as an anomaly, or will we view it as predictable given the social context of our time?

I wonder about the relationship between the development of Post-impressionism and Expressionism (and later Dada and Surrealism) and the subsequent rise of the Nazis. What role did the development of Dada and Surrealism play? Was the Nazis reign as much a reaction to the destruction of the classical tradition as it was an economic and ethnic reordering? Certainly one may argue that the current rise of the extreme right is, in part, a reaction to the artistic and social reordering that began in the 1950’s.

As I look out the studio windows, to the snow-covered hill and woods beyond, I wonder whether the growth of personal and artistic freedoms must inevitably spur a counter movement.

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12 thoughts on “Cycles of Change

  1. I suppose that revolution in economy, society and arts always comes as a reaction, it’s the negation of what was before. By negating there is a continuity which Hegel called dialectics. And we always hope for the better that a synthesis may bring.
    Happy New Year
    Klausbernd

  2. Thanks for enlarging my world a bit, Michael. I often think of social change as a pendulum swinging – when it swings too far there is a pull to bring it back with the result that it can go too far in the opposite direction. I think I like Robert Kegan’s spiral as a metaphor for human development. What I find interesting is that there are changes that take place in specific societies, but also changes that take place in several societies at the same time. The latter seems to be what you are describing. The current social craziness sure gives us a lot to think about.

    • Hi Pat! I like the metaphor of the spiral. It is as though “we have all been here before”, yet we haven’t really.
      The thing about the arts in the last century was that artists moved around a LOT! Especially in the West. So there was all this cross fertilization……
      Not sure how to navigate, or even what to think about, this crazy time.

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