Friday, February 29, 2008

Fin de Siecle?

Wikipedia defines "fin de siecle" thus:

Fin de siecle is French for "end of the century," also implying the end of an era. The English term "turn-of-the-century" is sometimes used as a synonym, but applies to the beginning of the next century, so the 19th century fin de siecle is the turn of the 20th century. In both languages, the term generally encompasses both the closing decades of a century and the opening decades of the following century. In general, fin de siècle is often used to refer to the end of the 19th century and the era of the Belle Epoque: (French for "Beautiful Era") was a period in European history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I. the Belle Epoque was considered a "golden age" as peace prevailed between the major powers of Europe, new technologies improved people's lives, and the arts underwent a revolution. In visual art movements such as Post Impressionism, Expressionism and Art Nouveau blossomed. Composers like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky came to prominence, and in America Jazz began to form into a cohesive movement. Literary realism and naturalism achieved new heights.

It was certainly a time of great innovation and creativity, but what has happened to the 20th century fin de siecle? Certainly technology has undergone revolutionary transformations, but one can hardly compare the arts of today with that of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This seems paradoxical as anyone now has the ability to produce and publish works of art, literature, music etc. to a mass audience without the need for a contract from a publishing or record company. With a word processor, piece of free audio software or an video camera you can easily broadcast your creations to the world. I sometimes wonder if my lack of appreciation of modern culture is just a measure of how out of touch I, but I really don’t sense anything like a modern day belle epoque surrounding me. Perhaps there’s just so much out there that we are not presented with a crystallised view of the great creations of the age, and sure, one or two good things pop up here and there, but to be honest, one would have to admit, the wheels have kind of fallen off. If this years entrants to the Archibald Prize are anything to go by, most people would agree. It is very ironic that in an age where almost anybody has the ability to create almost anything, almost nobody is.

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