Modernists believed the world’s systems, styles, and traditions needed to be completely reimagined and reinvented, in hopes that the human condition would be radically transformed.
Jan 14, 2023. The American Conservative
The left today completely controls high art, architecture, and pop culture in America. Leftists run the selection board at the Grammys and the appointment committee at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. They dominate the board rooms at Burning Man and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They run blockbuster movie sets in Hollywood and critically acclaimed productions in Sundance. They control the Rolling Stone editorial board and the Pulitzer Prize selection committee. They have complete control of the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Arts, and most state and local public art agencies. Every architecture school in America, even in conservative areas, is dominated by liberal professors and administration.
Design studio is the most important part of any architecture school curriculum, and there is no better course than studio to include leftist propaganda along with course material. Most studio projects have both a social and design component, and each semester in studio focuses on a different theme—environmental, socioeconomic, religious, and racial issues, for example. Just about any topic you might hear discussed at an elite San Francisco dinner party will find its way to the hypothetical building program, in studio, at any architecture school in the country. Liberals are educating young artists and architects, and for years, the right has just watched it happen.
If conservative America has any chance of bringing the arts and architecture back to neutral ground, they have to understand the origin of the left’s century-long grip on the arts and architecture. In the 1920s, most prominent creatives, including many American expatriates who complained about the lagging art scene in the United States, were living and working in Paris. Like the U.S., France had given this decade a nickname, “Les Annes Folles,” or “the crazy years.” Signals rang out over the streets of Paris on November 11, 1918, announcing the end of World War I. A British journalist, Helen Adam, wrote of the occasion, « It would have been strange if Paris had kept her head about her when the Armistice was signaled, and accordingly, she did not. » There was a party in the streets for the next four days; some, including many artists, would keep that party going for the next ten years. It lasted until the stock market collapse in America in 1929 brought the entire world economy to its knees.
Modernism was the new and prominent art movement at the time. Most art today, including architecture, visual art, music, theater, dance, and literature, was birthed by the modernist movement that dominated art innovation in Paris in the 1920s.
Modernism wasn’t a specific style, but was more of an idea. Part of the idea was to reject everything that came before. Modernists believed the world’s systems, styles, and traditions needed to be completely reimagined and reinvented, in hopes that the human condition would be radically transformed to make the world a fairer and more equitable place. The modernist vision in art was closely related to socialist beliefs of how business and industry should operate. Creatives believed art, especially architecture and urban planning, could fulfill the promise of equity among different socio-economic classes.
Throughout history, artists have believed they could and should lead the charge to realizing a utopian society and were naturally drawn to Marxism after World War I. Marx’s Communist Manifesto, originally published in 1848, was thoroughly studied in artistic circles in the 1920s. Marx believed capitalism naturally promoted a class struggle. Classless society was the ultimate goal. There would be no rich people, and no philanthropists financing the arts.
Architects, more than any other creatives, have actively worked toward utopia in their professional work, since modernism came on the scene. The father of modern architecture, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, also known as Le Corbusier, spent a great deal of time designing a complete utopian city he called « Radiant City. » He actually petitioned several city leaders to completely tear down an existing city and rebuild his utopian dream. Ebenezer Howard’s « Garden City » was another notable, and somewhat more reasonable, example. The first architect from the United States that achieved worldwide appeal was Frank Lloyd Wright. In step with other architects of his day, he also designed a version of a utopian city called « Broad Acre City. » Wright took an anti-urban approach in that plan, giving every citizen one acre of land. Wright said, « The future city will be everywhere and nowhere, and it will be a city so greatly different from the ancient city, or from any city of today, that we will probably fail to recognize it as a city at all.” Completely reinventing urban planning and design was typical of the modernist movement and architects desire to reimagine the built world.
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Prominent artists working in the Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris during the crazy years, included Coco Chanel, Le Corbusier, Pablo Picassso, and more. They were all exceptional talents within their respective disciplines. What makes this era stand out in art history is that these and other artists were living and working in the same place, at the same time. Today, Montparnasse still attracts art-loving tourists because of the magnitude of the movement born there more than a century ago.
Marxism was the political and economic system most favored by the arts and architecture communities at the time. They thought Marxism would make the world fairer and do away with war. Those intentions, although misguided, were noble. One must wonder if any of those lefty artists of the 1920s realized in trying to eliminate war it would also eliminate individuality and self-expression. As the following decades would prove, war, poverty, and inequality got worse under increased government control in most of Europe. And modernism, the art and architecture that arose out of Marxism, was the rejection of everything that had come before it. If Marxism had been totally implemented, as these artists in Paris desired, “Les Annes Folles” and the incredible contributions to art would have never been possible.
The after-effect of the crazy years was a significant moment in the entire history of art and architecture, causing a complete and lasting shift in styles, and attracting a large number of artists to Marxism and progressive politics. Those tendencies, which have gone unchecked for the last century-plus, have resulted today in art and architecture being completely dominated by the left.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Wines is a practicing architect and art enthusiast living and working in rural America. She can be found on Instagram @catherine_wines.