Twentieth Century Art Theory: Urbanism, Politics, and Mass Culture

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Paperback, 423 pages
Prentice Hall, 1990
First Edition

This overview of modern art theory and history treats modern art as a cultural, political, and social process intimately connected with larger cultural, political, and social contexts.  The main sections of the book place modern art within three related conditions of modern life: 1) the promise of new technologies, 2) world wars and economic depression, and 3) the institutionalization of culture.  Here, modern art is not seen as a series of "art movements," but as a very complex, pluralistic, cultural process.

Some important features include:

  • a comprehensive and original compilation of writings by important twentieth century artists and critics as well as recent commentaries by contemporary theorists. 
  • an emphasis on how artists were vulnerable to the world at large--from the traumas to the fads--that distinguishes between what is "properly art historical" and what is "extra-art historical."
  • coverage of the complexities and discontinuities in the collapse of genteel nineteenth century high culture into a pluralistic array of "cultural industries."
  • a discussion of architecture, design, and important areas of mass culture in addition to the fine arts.
  • setting the work of modern artist within the frame of two world wars, the institutionalization of art by museums and galleries, the pressure of the machine age within industrial cities during the early twentieth century, utopian dreams of a new social order, and the invasions and alliance created by the growth of mass culture, the mass media, and the global market place.

Authors: Richard Hertz, Norman M. Klein