Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Origins of Mod...

People go on and on about the 1960's as being an accelerated time of global rebellion and mass reform. Fair enough. But if the game is to draw a point on a timeline - to isolate the raw source of modernity - I'd say a far more radical time for our planet was the 1860's.

For starters, The Civil War - its causes and its aftermath - cut far deeper into the bonemarrow of a youthful and fractious USA than Vietnam. Plus the uniforms predate Sgt. Peppers by a clean century.

In the 1860's the industrial revolution was just sinking its mechanical teeth into the land, taking the human hand out of productivity, and paving the roadways of mass production that would supply paisley peasant blouses, transistor radios, and birth control pills to a confused and stylized youth movement - still one hundred years down the line.

Meanwhile in Europe, the original young soul rebel - a feisty socialist painter named Gustave Courbet - actively challenged the prudish affectations and controlled sentimentality of the Neoclassicists with his bold Realism.

Imagine the genuine, no-holds-barred shock that "L'Origine du Monde" must have caused in 1866. (Incidentally, predating Warhol's Banana by 101 years). Then imagine the triple shock that must have swallowed James Whistler's proud face upon returning to France after fighting for Chile's independence from Spain. There were his beautiful mistress' nethers on display for all of Parisian society... as rendered by his good pal Gustave.

That those nethers belonged to Joanna Hiffernan, or "Jo" of the flaming red hair, already well known as the model for Whistler's angelic "Symphony in White #1: The White Girl", only added to the scandal... And kicked open doors for generations of artists to launch aesthetic explorations into the realms of the extreme.

With Courbet's insouciance, dusty curtains were drawn to reveal a hypnotic voyeur's paradise. A world where nothing could ever be forbidden to the eye. These deep seismic events in Art, Industry, and War along with countless others that occurred during the 1860's unleashed tsunamis that would strike the shores of western cultures in steady and unrelenting waves for at least the next hundred years.

("155th Pennsylvania Regiment 1864" by Don Troiani)


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