The iconic chart of modernist movements drawn by Alfred Barr in 1936 illuminates the question of oversimplifcation. Barr was the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and prepared this diagram for the influential exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art. The diagram distinctly uses causal arrows to link and demonstrate how one art movement formulated and shaped another. As Edward Tufte succinctly summarizes in Beautiful Evidence, “The paths of artistic influence — the verbs of this analysis — are shown [here] by 51 links (49 solid lines, 2 dotted).” Indeed, in 51 lines, this diagram served to organize an otherwise complicated history by showing how one movement develops into the next. The definitive nature of this visual provides an authoritative view of the progression of modern art history, but it also raises a lot of questions. The visual simplicity of Barr’s chart — the black or red single-headed arrows, dotted lines, and type size changes — implies a linear and quantifiable flow to this artistic progression. But creativity, as we know it, is hardly so. Artistic movements are fueled by human relationships, friendship circles, exchanges between mentors and protégés, to just name a few. They are bound by intangible, at times accidental influences that propel one school of thought to the next. Yet, none of this humanity — perhaps the real substance behind movements of any kind — is present. Only an ultra-modern and stoic representation stands.
5 years ago
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