The Necessity of Modernisim

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Taken from Deadline: The Adman's Annual 1950, Auckland Advertising Club (Inc) p9.


By Clifton Firth

By modernisim I mean the art of the middle of the 20th century, with a pedigree of thousands of years and incorporating all the experience of its greatest discoverers.

There are people who dislike the word modernisim and pretend they do not know what it means when applied to art, but we can expose their affectation if we ask them what modern science means. They say that all art has in its day been modern as if that made the term meaningless.

So has all science.

Copernicus had every right to speak in his day of modern science but modern science today means the science of Copernicus plus that of Newton and Faraday and Darwin and Maxwell and Mendeleef and Planck and Einstein and Rutherford and Michurin.

Giotto, whether he did or not, had every right to call himself a modernist, but in 1950 a modernist is one who practises the art that belongs to 1950 and which has been laboriously developed through the centuries.

In neither case, art or science, is progress a matter of simple arithmetical addition.

Every first-rate artist or scientist modifies, expands or changes the work of his predecessors.

It is no more meaningless for a scientist to restate an outworn hypothesis as his own, than it is for a painter to rehash an outmoded art-form, or for T. S. Elliot suddenly to start writing like Keats!

The Past leaves us nothing but the benefit of its experience and it is for us to take advantage of it, not to lie down and mope about the glory that was Greece.

But apart altogether from "art for art's sake," nostalga is just bad publicity for surely only the weak and decrepit prefer to obsolete.

Why then, in a country that brags of its economic and legislative progress, shold it be thought encumbent upon the advertiser to present his brand-new ultra-modern streamlined synchromeshed superheterodyned wares in yesterday's cast-offs?

I am aware I am flogging a pretty sick hores but the least I can do is to help put him out of his misery.

I am aware that already there is a small band of progressive artists in New Zealand.

I am quite certain that the bulk of consumers accept the present standard of our advertising out of inertia and ignorance. In other words the advertiser not only stands behind his goods... he stands miles behind them.

The extraordinary advance in domestic architectural standards, and especially in public demand for those standards, which Auckland has witnessed in the last decade, is due to many factors but chief among them is the persistence and courage of Mr. Vernon Brown.

Alone among our architects he refused to give the public what they wanted... he gave them what they needed and now their needs are their wants.

It is significant the he no longer has the field to himself.

We can do the same thing and it is our bounden duty to do it. As a group of people with a tremendous public influence we are actually, and in many cases deliberately, retarding the cultural progress of our country.

Until we accept the findings of Moore and Matisse and Picasso and Miro and internationally accepted painters of the front line and apply their findings to our needs we are not merely fulfilling our purpose as proagandists but we are not even doing the best for ourselves.

About a dozen years ago the Saturday Evening Post used a Van Gough sunflower for a cover design and in a day or two you couldn't buy a copy for love or money and thousands of Americal homes had a beautiful modern masterpiece beside the suburban junk upon their mantle pieces.

Today Van Gough has become a bore by repitition.

Finally I would like to quote Dr. H. T. Honeyman in the Scottish Feld:

"It is all very well to attack Picasso and Matisse but, as I found when we held the exhibitions of their paintings in Glasgow Art Galleries, you just can't keep people away from them... There is no compulsion but the fact remains that people came flocking to the galleries, some of whom admitted they hadn't been there for the last 20 years in spite of all the masterpieces of the past that were to be seen any day."

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