The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In this article, Daniel Arango criticizes the poetics (or theory of composition) underlying Modern art, which he calls “the new aesthetic.” He argues that there is a void innate to a conception of art at the margin of history, an art that eschews human experience to concentrate solely on form and color. Arango quotes North American writer Archibald MacLeish to voice the view that “aesthetic art” is not geared to “the creation of a poetic organization of experience but rather to the destruction of old [forms of] organization,” and hence is not guided by an intrinsic need. It is, in his view, an art of uprising with no vital cause. The hope to find “pure art” strikes the author as an excess of the “particular arrogance” of aesthetics and art of the time and, hence, he proposes a return to “the old vision.” While his incisive criticism is panoramic and addresses Modern art as a whole, its privileged object is French and American Surrealist poetry.
This essay by Colombian poet and essayist Daniel Arango (1921-2009) forms part of an important debate that ensued over the course of the 20th century, when artists on both sides of the Atlantic rose up against the turn-of-the-century art tradition. Artists advocated for an autonomous art unfettered by the interests of the Church, the Judicial Authorities, or the State, that is, by the dominant institutions. Instead, artists pursued an autonomous art with its own set of interests: they attempted to explore the visual potential of art’s specific linguistic terrain. The new invisible hand that began to determine the course of art, however, was the nascent post-capitalist market that emerged in the nineteen tens and twenties. In Arango’s view, Modern art is an expressive procedure lacking a vital purpose and, as a result, it is reduced to a technical gesture that aspires to be pure form. The aspiration to be released from “the brief history of man” limits its “ability to be shared, that is, its universality.” What human reality does Modern art reflect? “None, insofar as it attempts to escape from the real” for the sake of weakening earlier artistic movements, Arango argues.
At the same time, the fact that art attempts to exist for art’s sake does not necessarily impede it from having “a real basis in the social physiognomy of its times.” Indeed, the European avant-gardes formulated an almost explicit response to the monstrous experience of widespread war in the Old World. Perhaps their Colombian counterparts felt the same general wretchedness due to a war whose full effects are still not entirely known. If, throughout the 20th century, art took a drastic leap forward—delving into a new chaos that, for many, seemed like hysterical or ridiculous babbling—perhaps the historical circumstances of that century were what impelled those changes. Furthermore, in Arango’s view, Modern art is not the sole art of rebellion. Indeed, almost the entire history of art from Europe and the Americas is a chain of responses to the artistic tradition.