The answer to Suzi Gablik’s question is that Modernism as we conceive it didn’t fail at all. Picasso, Schoenberg and Joyce were all too successful. What may have failed is the contemporary response to their challenge. This is partly a matter of the self-defeating technical thrashing about of postmodernism: indeed one of Ms Gablik’s premises is that ‘As long as we are willing to consider anything as art, innovation no longer seems possible or even desirable’. But it is also a matter of values: so much of the ‘best’ contemporary art is just not as good as that of the past: it lacks its coherence, its complexity, and its concern with ‘real life’ rather than aesthetic values. It is not as satisfying. It gives less pleasure, because it is not concerned with anything much more than the intellectual, avant gardist responses of its audience. The collapse of modernist culture and its values may be the cause of a terminal decadence in art. Has Modernism Failed?, which is a tract for the times, rather than a scholarly analysis, describes the context and the symptoms of this breakdown very well.
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