Art in the 20th Century

A interesting topic I have been thinking about recently is the evolution of all art forms through the 20th century and beyond. Every art form, as far as I know, just got real weird in the early or mid-20th century. Painting got really weird. Music got really weird. The visual arts got really weird. All art became very weird.

Learning about music history in the 20th century, I figured the weirdness of that time period was a result of two things. One: a reaction against the traditional rules of music theory and typical music conventions, and two: to push music to its absolute limits. From my understanding, this push against the traditional rules of music was because composers were tired of following those rules. I figured every art form started their descents into weirdness for similar reasons. Artists of all disciplines wanted to break their long standing rules and traditions going back at least hundreds of years.

The turn of the 20th century saw a rise of a completely new art form, film. The invention of film was essentially the only new art form for hundreds of years. By the time art in general started their descent into weirdness, film was brand new, and barely recognized as a medium of art. This is where my preconception of art history starts to fall apart. Film did not have the hundreds of years of tradition to break, however, film got weird around the same time as every other art forms. Why is that? So when other art forms got weird, was it not a reaction against the rules of their discipline? It must be something else

Perhaps, it wasn’t that every artist in every art form collectively decided to rebel against their masters at the same time. Maybe it was the result of cultural and technological advancements of the 20th century that lead to the perfect storm of innovation in art. Firstly, the culture of the early 20th century was more open to “weirdness” in the arts. The early 20th century was pretty liberal compared to the previous century, and as a result it lead to a culture that was more open to celebrating the more “out there” art. Perhaps there were always artists breaking the rules of their medium for all of history, but those pieces were never celebrated and therefore were not remembered.

Secondly, many technological advancements leading up to the early-20th century lead to the perfect storm of innovation in the arts. The turn of the 20th century saw a number of new technologies that made it easier to share the arts, especially with music. The radio, the record player, film, and photography made sharing art easier. Now you don’t need to watch an orchestra perform Beethoven’s Fifth to experience the symphony. You could now do it much easier at home with your record player. This allowed composers to experience a lot more music than the previous century. Composers then could experiment more and push the boundaries of music, being inspired by all the new music they had the opportunity to listen to.

Film proves my preconception of the evolution of art isn’t entirely correct. Sure some of the weirdness of the 20th century was a rejection of the rules and traditions of all art forms. However, the evolution of film as an art shows that art isn’t entirely a rejection of the past, it is also a result of cultural and technological advancements. All art moves uniformly together as a result of culture. You can see that today with the internet becoming commonplace. The way we share and experience art is changing once again, just like a century ago. The effects of todays technological advancements are still unknown to me. Future historians will look back to today and pinpoint the exact ways art has changed due to internet. Looking forward to it.


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