Significantly, both early and late modernists shared a self-servingly elitist view regarding the public. Much like the abstract pioneers,who thought that understanding their work required a newly evolved form of consciousness which only they purportedly possessed,the later advocates of abstract art thought that such work could be appreciated by only a select few like themselves. It was acounterfeit form of elitism, dependent on a mere assertion of superiority, with no objective basis to support it. They proclaimed thevalue of the abstract work but said little or nothing to justify it. And if you failed to see how Pollock's  couldjustify Greenberg's claim that he was "one of the major painters of our time," you'd surely be counted among the philistines--theultimate term of critical contempt.
The literature in all fields on the questions of modernism/modernity, postmodernism/postmodernity, and the more recent questions about the post-postmodern is vast. The following works (spanning philosophy, art theory, architecture, and cultural theory) have played a major role in defining the discourse and arguments of this field of study, or are useful syntheses for orientation and overviews.
The Old Masters had sensed that it was necessary to preservewhat is called the integrity of the picture plane: that is, tosignify the enduring presence of flatness underneath and abovethe most vivid illusion of three-dimensional space. The apparentcontradiction involved was essential to the success of their art,as it is indeed to the success of all pictorial art. The Modernistshave neither avoided nor resolved this contradiction; rather,they have reversed its terms. One is made aware of the flatnessof their pictures before, instead of after, being made aware ofwhat the flatness contains. Whereas one tends to see what is inan Old Master before one sees the picture itself, one sees a Modernistpicture as a picture first. This is, of course, the best way ofseeing any kind of picture, Old Master or Modernist, but Modernismimposes it as the only and necessary way, and Modernism's successin doing so is a success of self-criticism.
The notion of the postmodern has sprouted and spread in thatsame relaxing climate of taste and opinion in which pop art andits successors thrive. It represents wishful thinking for themost part; those who talk about the postmodern are too ready togreet it. Yes, if the modern, if Modernism, is over and done with,then there'll be surcease, relief. At the same time art historywill have been kept going, and we critics and journalists willhave kept abreast of it. But I happen to think that Modernismisn't finished, certainly not in painting or sculpture. Art isstill being made that challenges the longing for relaxation andrelief and makes high demands on taste (demands that are moretaxing because deceptive: the best new art of latter years innovatesin a less spectacular way than the best new art used to underModernism). Modernism, insofar as it consists in the upholdingof the highest standards, survives -- survives in the face ofthis new rationalization for the lowering of standards.
"Where are the empathies [of traditional historicism?] The answer is inevitable: with the victor. Hence empathy with the victor invariably benefits the rulers. Historical materialists know what that means. Whoever has emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the present rulers step over those who are lying prostrate. According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment... They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism... [A historical materialist] regards it as his task to brush history against the grain."
I want to take this chance to correct an error, one of interpretationan not of fact. Many readers, though by no means all, seem tohave taken the 'rationale' of Modernist art outlined here as representinga position adopted by the writer himself that is, that what hedescribes he also advocates. This may be a fault of the writingor the rhetoric. Nevertheless, a close reading of what he writeswill find nothing at all to indicate that he subscribes to, believesin, the things that he adumbrates. (The quotation marks aroundpure and purity should have been enough to show that.) The writeris trying to account in part for how most of the very best artof the last hundred-odd years came about, but he's not implyingthat that's how it to come about, much less that that'show the best art still has to come about. 'Pure' art was a usefulillusion, but this doesn't make it any the less an illusion. Nordoes the possibility of its continuing usefulness make it anythe less an illusion.
The above appeared first in 1960 as a pamphlet in a seriespublished by the Voice of America. It had been broadcast overthat agency's radio in the spring of the same year. With someminor verbal changes it was reprinted in the spring 1965 numberof Art and Literature in Paris, and then in Gregory Battcock'santhology (1966).
Colonialism may be defined as a particular form taken by the process of creating an integrated world economy and the development of an international division of labor Fieldhouse (1994:164).
Nothing could be further from the authentic art of our timethan the idea of a rupture of continuity. Art is -- among otherthings -- continuity, and unthinkable without it. Lacking thepast of art, and the need and compulsion to maintain its standardsof excellence, Modernist art would lack both substance and justification.
Ironically, the early abstractionists themselves paid unwitting tribute to this most important of human faculties. Although theyprofessed to reject material objects (which are of course the focal point of vision), they nevertheless attempted to represent spirit invisible, and therefore material, form. In contrast, artists the world over have long understood that immaterial (and therefore invisible)things such as "spirit" can be represented visually only by embodying them in some way--that is, by showing their effect on amaterial (and therefore visible) being, Consider, for example, the inner spirit conveyed through facial expression in this or this figure of .
But I want to repeat that Modernist art does not offer theoreticaldemonstrations. It can be said, rather, that it happens to converttheoretical possibilities into empirical ones, in doing whichit tests many theories about art for their relevance to the actualpractice and actual experience of art. In this respect alone canModernism be considered subversive. Certain factors we used tothink essential to the making and experiencing of art are shownnot to be so by the fact that Modernist painting has been ableto dispense with them and yet continue to offer the experienceof art in all its essentials. The further fact that this demonstrationhas left most of our old value judgments intact only makes itthe more conclusive. Modernism may have had something to do withthe revival of the reputations of Uccello, Piero della Francesca,El Greco, Georges de la Tour, and even Vermeer; and Modernismcertainly confirmed, if it did not start, the revival of Giotto'sreputation; but it has not lowered thereby the standing of Leonardo,Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, or Watteau. What Modernismhas shown is that, though the past did appreciate these mastersjustly, it often gave wrong or irrelevant reasons for doing so.
There have been some further constructions of what I wrotethat go over into preposterousness: That I regard flatness andthe inclosing of flatness not just as the limiting conditionsof pictorial art, but as criteria of aesthetic quality in pictorialart; that the further a work advances the self-definition of anart, the better that work is bound to be. The philosopher or arthistorian who can envision me -- or anyone at all -- arrivingat aesthetic judgments in this way reads shockingly more intohimself or herself than into my article.
And I cannot insist enough that Modernism has never meant,and does not mean now, anything like a break with the past. Itmay mean a devolution, an unraveling, of tradition, but it alsomeans its further evolution. Modernist art continues the pastwithout gap or break, and wherever it may end up it will nevercease being intelligible in terms of the past. The making of pictureshas been controlled, since it first began, by all the norms Ihave mentioned. The Paleolithic painter or engraver could disregardthe norm of the frame and treat the surface in a literally sculpturalway only because he made images rather than pictures, and workedon a support -- a rock wall, a bone, a horn, or a stone -- whoselimits and surface were arbitrarily given by nature. But the makingof pictures means, among other things, the deliberate creatingor choosing of a flat surface, and the deliberate circumscribingand limiting of it. This deliberateness is precisely what Modernistpainting harps on: the fact, that is, that the limiting conditionsof art are altogether human conditions.