Friday, January 30, 2015

Peter Gay's Modernism: The Lure of a Selective Survey

Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and BeyondModernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond by Peter Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is of the first edition of Modernism.

Peter Gay provides a sweeping survey of the artistic revolution after which the book is named. It is a fascinating account for anyone interested in artistic development from the mid 19th century on into the late 20th.

What may be more intriguing, however, are what Gay chooses to leave out of the survey. While we get profiles of composers like Stravinsky and Schoenberg, there is absolutely no mention of Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and others. Jazz is completely absent, an odd exclusion, considering the art form had a tremendous impact on 20th century popular music. So, why feature pop artists, such as Andy Warhol, but no pop musicians?

Also, why does Gay focus on some rather obscure personalities (Charles Ives, for example, who, rather oddly, as Gay goes to great lengths to point out, characterizes other composers as "pussies"), when the influence of these lesser known figures is certainly limited? One can only assume Gay had some reason, but his justifications for these choices are questionable in light of overall influence when compared to more noteworthy artists.

There are also editing issues and Gay's ponderous and convoluted writing style gets, well, tedious, at times. Other than that, the book is interesting and at times, entertaining. Modernism is a good, albeit limited, overview of a revolutionary shift in the arts.

View all my reviews