"The Two Cultures" 50 Years On

So much 20th century modern art, in just about every genre, including music, painting, architecture and sculpture was purposely designed to be incomprehensible to the layman. In the mid-1970s and early-1980s, Tom Wolfe made sport of the entire enterprise with From Bauhaus To Our House and The Painted Word. The title of the latter book explains how badly art had degenerated by the mid-1970s. Whereas once any layman could instantly appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of say, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David, or a great classical symphony, modern painting in particular had almost become merely an excuse for the artist and his champion critic to write a treatise explaining the work of art in the first place.


John Derbyshire has a fascinating essay, which ran almost a  year ago, but recently relinked by the Derb at the Corner, which does much to explain why this divergence occurred, and its mid-19th century origins.

Meanwhile, regarding the motion picture industry, one of the few 20th century artforms that any layman could appreciate, NPR looks back at 1962 and its abundance of cinematic riches:

The five Best Picture nominees that year were Lawrence of Arabia (the eventual winner), The Longest Day, The Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty and To Kill A Mockingbird. Not a bad list for any year, certainly.

But even if none of those pictures had ever been produced, the Motion Picture Academy could still have assembled a perfectly respectable 1962 list. One possible slate: The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz, Days of Wine and Roses, The Miracle Worker and Long Day’s Journey into Night. Believe it or not, they were all among the year’s also-rans.

And if none of those had been produced either? There’d still have been plenty of worthy candidates: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Billy Budd, Divorce Italian Style, Last Year at Marienbad, Gypsy, Sweet Bird of Youth, Period of Adjustment, Jules and Jim, Lolita, Advise and Consent, Peeping Tom and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance … just to name a few.

So: Is there a year that can top that?

Well 1939 wasn’t too shabby a year for American movies, either. And in both cases, we”ll likely never see quite a line-up of films that could appeal to the general public and contain such fine craftsmanship and (dare I say it?) art. But much like the love-hate relationship the Mad Men TV series has with the late ’50s and early 1960s, it seems sort of paradoxical for the boomers at NPR to praise an era that they themselves helped to destroy shortly thereafter.


Related: And speaking of movies, J.R. Taylor has some thoughts on the transformation of Roger Ebert from ingratiating middlebrow movie critic to the masses, to shrill archliberal wannabe-pundit.

Update: Speaking of which


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