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11.5: Conclusion

  • Page ID
    232334
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University
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    While World's Fairs expressed imperialist certainties about cultural and racial superiority, in the next century these certainties would be profoundly displaced. Their unsettling was already evident in artistic tendencies during the last years of the nineteenth century. Older histories of American modernism have told a story of a dramatic break between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries; however, well before 1900, artists, writers, and philosophers explored new theories of perception and of mental experience that furnished the groundwork for a culture of modernity. Internal tensions evident in the 1890s would surface more directly in the following decades. Contrary to the racial hierarchies of America's "age of empire," a new longing to identify with non-Western cultures and ways of being was emerging, as is evident for instance in Saint-Gaudens's memorial to Clover Adams. Modern industrial production was providing new mechanical means, such as the camera, that could remarkably increase the power and autonomy of the individual. Historian Jackson Lears has identified a range of tendencies that signal the unsettled nature of the 1890s, from the search for spiritual awakening and transcendence to a fascination with extreme forms of physical and emotional experience, all of which would converge to form twentieth-century modernity. Bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the belief that art could heal the fractured modern personality, progressively more adrift in a world without moral certainty. The growing autonomy of private experience in the late nineteenth century pointed toward modernism's faith that the embrace of art would make life whole.


    This page titled 11.5: Conclusion is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts.