Age of Extremes
The Rise of the Revolutionary Arts
The chapter under review is set in the context of the troubled times that Eric Hobsbawm describes in his book "The Age of Extremities" -- a time which saw two world wars, the greatest economic depressions in world history and the communist revolution in Russia and elsewhere. There was an environment of revolution in Europe and elsewhere -- in India for example where the fight for independence from British rule was at its height during the later part of this period. Therefore according to Eric Hobsbawm, the time period from 1914 to 1945 was one where the socio-political scenario had a deep impact on the arts and culture and their expression.
The Rise of the Revolutionary Arts
During the period from 1914 to 1945, Eric Hobsbawm notes that in the established world of arts and culture the only two innovations that were noteworthy were the rise of Dadaism which also gave rise to the anticipated surrealism movement in part so western Europe and the constructivism movement that started off in the communist Soviet Union in the Eats of the world (Hobsbawm, 1994, p178-181).
At the beginning of 20th century, modernist movement was the most known movement; the movement got affected by social, political, and cultural occurrences of the time. Then the Dada art movement was established. World War 1 was the main reason to start this movement (Hobsbawm, 1994, p181).
The establishment of Dada was majorly for artists to bring out their ideas and opinions about the World War I and the roles that they had to play during the war. The movements changed the direction of the road that arts used to take, they increased the range of creativity among artists globally, and the movements provided a chance for people to express their feelings at the hard times such as during the World War I. The Dada art movement used everything from glass to plaster to geometric tapestries to wooden reliefs.
The impact of the art movement of Dadaism was also reflected in the U.S. when Marcel Duchamp organized an art exhibition where a public urinal was used a ready-made art form in New York in 1917 (Hobsbawm, 1994, p180).
In a spirit that carried the revolutionary tone of Dadaism, surrealism also was aimed to reject all the existing forms of art and the subjects changed from romanticism to public scandals and more importantly social revolution (Hobsbawm, 1994, p180). This movement in arts during this period started in France and then spread to other parts of Europe and even in the West. Eric Hobsbawm notes that surrealism as an addition to the avant-garde art forms that was able to bring out shock, incomprehension and sometimes even laughter.
Eric Hobsbawm also notes the impact and the effect that the contemporary political environment had on the art form development. He says in the book that these revolutionary art movements had three very notable characteristics -- they became a part of the culture that was established, It also became a part of the "fabric of everyday life" and the art form had become "dramatically politicized" to the extent that was perhaps more than that ever since the period of Age of Revolution (Hobsbawm, 1994, p181).
The impact of the art movement in Europe also had its impact in the Soviet Union and on ballet. Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev modernized the form of dance according to the period and its occurrences. This modern form of the ballet was reviewed in British journalism as one that had given the audience "Modern Music without tears and Modern Painting without laughter" (Hobsbawm, 1994, p182).
Eric Hobsbawm rightly opines that this diffusion of the ballet is just an example of the way art and culture were diffused by the impact of the troubled times, although they...
This avant-garde diffusion had spread all throughout western Europe and there was no more a unified high culture.
However, the political forces forced the closure of the links that were developed between the art worlds of Russia and Europe -- where Paris completed the axis with Moscow-Berlin until the time that Stalin and Hitler's victory manage dot silence this axis of cooperation in arts. The arts and literature remained enclosed with the fragments of the erstwhile Habsburg and Ottoman Empires and used their own languages which were rarely translated. However things changed during the rise of the anti-fascist diasporas in the 1930s and this is the time, argues Eric Hobsbawm, when the avant-garde again resurfaced (Hobsbawm, 1994, p182).
Eric Hobsbawm aptly also writes that the time period between the wars -- the first and the second world war, was a time of revolution for the forms of expression while modernism in arts took local forms and some of them flourished and managed to break down political boundaries, it was time when art became a symbol for people who wanted to prove that they were up-to-date with the times and culture (Hobsbawm, 1994, p184). Eric Hobsbawm also correctly notes that the vanguard of the culture of each country, while revaluing the past, rewrote or repainted the past in a way that fitted into the contemporary requirements.
It was also the time that cinema began to take a modern form. Though most of the so called modern films in France -- where the film revolution had begun, were considered uninteresting by the general public and adored by the critics, commercial cinema was also impacted by the 'modernism' wave that had hit in other forms of art (Hobsbawm, 1994, p184). This transformation into modern cinema form was done obliquely through films and productions that were not considered to be 'art' be the general public. Such films were not judged by their aesthetic value but by the publicity, industrial design and commercial print and graphics.
One of the outstanding characteristics of the revolution in art during the period from 1914 and 1945, as noted by Eric Hobsbawm in his book, was the element of hope that had spread in the forms of art being created emanating from similar notions in the minds of the artists. With the rise of fascism in Europe in the form of Stalin and Hitler and the threat of another war looming and atrocities on people in such an environment the artists still felt that they were "defending values" that were threatened but which had not yet been destroyed. This attitude was manifested themselves in the arts and culture of the era (Hobsbawm, 1994, p184).
At the same time, the artists in the non-Western world were coping with the problem of modernity instead of modernism where they were trying to find out ways to write the spoken vernaculars into the form of literary idioms that were flexible and comprehensive for the people of the times. Eric Hobsbawm rightly notes that this was established by the Bengali artists since the mid 19th century in India. He points out to writers and poets who chose to write in Urdu instead of pure Persian and in Turkish instead of pure Arabic. These, according to Eric Hobsbawm, were due to the impact of modernization that had hit arts and culture the west on the non-west during the period of "catastrophe" (Hobsbawm, 1994, p191).
The impact of modernism on the arts and culture in the non-western was actually an attempt by the artists to discover and to present arts to the people in the form of a real representation of the contemporary times. Hence, Eric Hobsbawm calls this a movement of Realism. It is this concept of realism in arts and culture that he feels managed to unite the art of the East and the West (Hobsbawm, 1994, p192).
Talking about the mass media during the period from 1914 to 1945, Eric Hobsbawm, says that the art revolution during this time had left an impact on the films produced for the mass where there was a penetration of the educational strata and a certain elitism, this penetration gave rise to the golden age of silent films for Germany and the sound films of France and even in Italy after the lifting of fascism there. The press, on the other hand, tried to impress the literate and even the illiterate ones through pictures and cartoons. However, the radio at that time was an expensive gadget and could not create a huge impact due to its lack of numbers (Hobsbawm, 1994, p195).
The period that Eric Hobsbawm tries to understand arts in was characterised as one of the most troubled times for mankind a period where there were two wards, a number of revolutions and rise of fascism, arts and culture were transformed, though in a limited manner due to political complications and implications, to provide a means for artists to express their anger and frustration at what was going on around them. The Dadaism and Surrealism movement were testimony where the artists tried to break free from the established…
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