Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Beginning of Modernism - The Rather Silly Version

1. Surrealism, New Realism, and Fruitsaladism

Modernism began in the evening hours of October 3, 1908, in a medium-sized garret in Paris, France. The owner had previously bought a small, closet-sized garret, but due to a recent demand for artistic garrets, he had upgraded to to a medium-sized garret in order to live his life of artistic penury and starvation in a little more comfort.
The people present in this garret were Utge Mitke, a painter from Poland; Mahra Uhle, a preminist* from Germany; Oswald de L'Empriere, a novelist who lived by the Seine (although he had not yet actually written a word); and T.S. Eliot, depressed, from America.
Up until that point, artists had been living in the past. But eventually, the past must pass into the present, and that is what it did that morning, with an audible thud.
All of the artists were standing around, wondering what to do now that the present had finally arrived. Mitke was listlessly painting a still-life of apples and oranges, Uhle was expounding to the room her radical preminist theories, L'Empriere was thinking about the novel he hadn't written, and Eliot was depressed.

Suddenly, L'Empriere strode across the room, took an apple out of the still life that Mitke was painting, and bit into it. The rest of the room was astonished, but, as Eliot later explained, it was as if the Real World had finally caught up with the artistic world.
Announcing this as the first act of surrealism, L'Empriere flung the apple onto the floor and left the garret.
The next day, L'Empriere and Mitke invented the second great artistic movement of modernism: Fruitsaladism. L'Empriere took all of the fruit out of a still life painted by Mitke, and diced them up into a delicious fruit salad, which he then fed to the crowd of onlookers. They continued in this way for one month, until the Parisian Chefs Union ran them out of town. To this day in France, putting things made out of oil and turpentine in your mouth have been a strictly culinary act.

L'Empriere and Mitke went on to perform many other great artistic acts: instead of painting an apple, Mitke and L'Empriere would allow the apple to paint them (they called this 'New Realism'**). In a final, great artistic act, L'Empriere allowed himself to be eaten by the apple. He never survived his death, and so, to this day, we don't know what to call this artistic movement.
Many people considered this great concluding performance a comment on the war. Unfortunately, it was 1938 at the time, so people weren't quite sure what war he was referring to.

* A preminist is a proto-feminist.
**This may or may not have been the inspiration for F.D. Roosevelt's political plan, which he was originally to call 'The New Dealism'

2. Eliot and Smudger

Modernism had soon become a worldwide artistic movement, with many adherents and practitioners. One highlight of this movement was the publication of T. S. Eliot's poem 'The Wasteland'. Another highlight was the publication of T. B. Smudger's poem 'The Scrapheap'. Eliot's work is too long to be quoted in part, and Smudger's masterpiece is too short to be quoted in full without leaving a lot of extra space, but part of it goes:

God, my life is crap.
Wei la la la la
Jug jug
Those are the pearls that were his eyes! *

As you can see, Smudger was a master of the metreless quatrain, as well as the quatrainless metre.

*The rest of the poem is a lot of artfully-placed blank space.

3. The Second Ever Performance Of ...

Another modernist of distinction was Elge Gonthe, a native Bulgarian who had returned to live and work in his native homeland for the first time. He was a classically-trained pianist, and one evening, he strode into a music hall where, for no reason at all, a large audience of random people had gathered. He then sat down at a piano and proceeded to play nothing for five minutes.
When somebody asked him what he was doing, Gonthe replied that this was the Second Ever Performance of John Cage's 4'23'' (a piano piece consisting of four minutes and twenty three seconds of silence).
"But that piece has not been written yet!" persisted Gonthe's zealous inquirer. "And, if it is 4'23'', then isn't this the first performance?"
Gonthe replied simply that he was not bound by conventional chronological structures.
The audience, moved by Gonthe's artistic and rhetorical brilliance, rose as one and gave him an ovation. During the following months, Gonthe presented the Second Ever Performance Of Cage's most famous musical composition to audiences all over Europe. It was a true tour de force of the avant garde.
Thirty years later, John Cage shut himself up in a studio with his cat and two strawberry meringues and spent the next week writing 4'23''. The meringues escaped unscathed, but the effort took so much out of Cage and the cat that they could not afterwards pass by a meringue shop without shivering.

4. Larry, husband of ...

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the modernist movement concerns a simple American mechanic by the name of Larry. (He didn't have a last name. Sometimes, he wasn't even sure that he had a first name. He did have a middle name, but no-one knew what that was.)
He didn't know anything about art, but one day, he was visiting the Guggenheim gallery with his fiancee, Carrie. They happened to pass by Piccaso's famous painting, Woman Crying:

In what was to prove to be a fateful act, Larry mistook the painting for his fiancee and left the gallery with his arms wrapped around it, speaking comforting words.
One month later, Larry and the painting were married in a small and simple wedding ceremony. All of the family were present, and they were all very moved by it.
Larry and the painting went on to have three children, which they named 'Pastelle', 'Charcoal'*, and 'Landscape'. It was only after thirty years of happily married life that Larry and the painting discovered their tragic mistake. Larry immediately rushed back to the Guggenheim, but he could not find his wife anywhere. However, he did see a saucy minx of a painting by Jackson Pollock, and he immediately threw it to the floor and ravished it before being removed by gallery staff.
So, although the story ended tragically, it is well to recall that Larry and an item of abstract art had lived in harmony for three decades.

*Larry had wanted to call them Chantelle and Parkle, but his wife had disagreed.

(Cross-posted here.)

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