A Lament for the Lost Innocence of Abstract Art

When I wrote the above sentence earlier this year, I was thinking of 'innocence' as a state of belief, without the experience to dent confidence. Abstract Modernism seemed innocent to me because of its belief (or rather the belief of some of artists associated with that form of abstract art) in the possibility of societal change through the redemptive power of art. This belief in art is not confined to the period of high Modernism. It can be seen in the work of the artists of the Renaissance, among others. Various eras of modernism have shown different sides of this belief in art's power, from the Dadaists to the Suprematists and Constructivists. But the disparity between the sometimes stated aims of the Abstract Expressionists and the results of their efforts makes their project particularly bathetic. In art terms, it seems there is nothing less likely to change society politically than canvasses painted with shapes and forms that have few referents with outside reality.