“In the face of the ever-increasing growth and saturation of the mass media and the commercial world, the existence of something ‘real’ behind this surface proliferation of imagery was being called into doubt.” Mike O’Mahony is speaking about what he felt was being communicated by modern art. I think that artists for some time have used their art to express a basic dissatisfaction with the limitations of the art that had been created before them. Something new in the expression of meaning and beauty is always emerging in the artist’s vision. The question is, what are they seeking?
In the last century and a half, a number of painters have sensed that the world of form as perceived by the human senses is an illusion. This insight was intuitive and as far as we know was not consciously formulated as part of a comprehensive worldview on the part of any one artist. In the past, however, the reactions that characterized shifts from one art “movement” to another, e.g. from impressionism to expressionism to abstract expressionism, was an intuitive feeling that fundamentally humanity was failing to create a sustainable or even sane life.
Once art was no longer used didactically as religious propaganda it began to unconsciously express the universal neurosis of its contemporary culture. In other words Edvard Munch’s The Scream was not a painting created by a mentally ill man—but a painting done by a man within the context of a community of unconscious individuals—a society deeply estranged from reality.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.