Lars Holger Holm
Hiding in Broad Daylight: An Analysis of the Political Radicalisation and Commercialisation of Artistic Modernism
London: Arktos, 2015
“Charles,” said Cordelia, “Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?”
—Brideshead Revisited (1945)
The artist, like everyone else in society, has always had a somewhat equivocal relationship to the past: necessarily drawing upon it, while also seeking to reshape it for contemporary needs – to “make it new,” as Pound demanded.
How then did so-called “Modernist” art come to see itself as utterly and implacably hostile to the past?
The problem was not that they wanted a fresh means of expression – every young ambitious artist wants that – but that this claim was maintained in downright hostile opposition to the past; as thought the past, even the most recent, really had nothing to teach them whatsoever.
Lars Holger Holm suggests that the key to understanding this is that “‘modern’ is an attribute of Parisian life after l’ancien régime and the revolution.” More generally, we
Need to understand the modernist breakthrough as a political upheaval, not only against bourgeois society in general, but, insofar as that same society was influenced by a cultural hierarchy descending from the European aristocracy, against any idealist notion propagating the ideas of intrinsic beauty or artistic quality.
But, there’s another turn of the screw: the modern mentality having birthed two revolutionary movements – Communism, and, rising in opposition, Fascism – which fought across Europe like “two tyrannosaurs,”
Art, hitherto blowing petrol on every existing revolutionary fire in Europe and elsewhere, ecstatically watching every vestige of old Europe going up in flames, suddenly declares itself innocent. And as though that weren’t enough, it is now, The Victim!
By emptying itself of all content – by spitting on it, in fact – modern art has largely succeeded in both eluding any association with the now-discredited dinosaurs (obsessed, as they were, with their disparate notions of The Beautiful), and at the same time guaranteeing it will be left alone, asking only to be allowed its much-vaunted “freedom of the artist.” Nothing to see here!
It’s an interesting and certainly arguable thesis regarding an important subject. All too frequently, however, one wonders if Mr. Holm is the one to argue it.
Such a brief text is necessarily densely compact, and at times one wonders if Mr. Holm would be fairer to the artists discussed if he had more space, or is, perhaps, forcing his artistic judgments into his interpretive framework.
For example, Mr. Holm notes that original and talented artists were attracted to Modernism in its earlier stages; he does not lump everyone in with Duchamp’s urinal and Chris Burden’s self-inflicted gunshots. However, while making that point he lauds the early Stravinsky while assigning such later works as the Symphony of Psalms to the Modernist trash heap.
For John Tavener, who knows a thing or two about music, Modernism, and Tradition, Stravinsky’s body of work is all of a piece and profoundly spiritual:
It was as if Le Sacre du Printemps was a kind of explosion from deep inside his subconscious spirit. One could also say that Le Sacre was a form of primordial knowledge revealed to Stravinsky almost instantaneously at the beginning of his composing life, for it was an explosion that was to continue to vibrate inside him in differing degrees of transcendence throughout his journey in this world. It was this vision of the primordial that enabled him to compose Les Noces, the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, the Symphony of Psalms, and the Canticum Sacrum, works in which Stravinsky again senses the strong vibrations of the primordiality of Le Sacre du Printemps, thus introducing once more a quality of the absolute into the relative, bringing about a true objectivity and a true sacredness.
This places Stravinsky in a unique position in the modernist desert and hell in which he lived and worked. It also enabled him to reinstate the sacred dimension of music in a way that no other composer had done for hundreds of years. So, it is not a question of whether one likes or dislikes this or that work of Stravinsky, but rather to what degree the music is able to dissolve our frozen state and, at the same time, belong to the universal and timeless nature of things. . . . To apply all these metaphysical criteria to any other 20th-century composer seems almost unthinkable because most of them were entirely consumed by modernism.
Myself, I think that rather than “modernist exhaustion” Colin Wilson’s verdict is more apt: the early Modernist musicians, such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg (and the other twelve-toners) simply had nothing more to say, but kept devising ever more elaborate ways to say it, in order to maintain their reputations.
Similarly, when Mr. Holm cites a trio of miscreants as the ne plus ultra of the Modernist debacle, he includes John Cage and his 4’ 33.” While admittedly a somewhat inane idea, and ultimately self-defeating as far as his reputation goes, summing up John Cage as “four minutes of silence” ignores a plethora of interesting work, musical, textual, and even most notable for posterity, mycology.
More importantly, Cage was hardly an enemy of Tradition, artistic and otherwise.
In fact, readers from the alt-Right perspective might think of John Cage less as precursor of Warholian buffoonery than as an Industrial music pioneer; no Cage, no Throbbing Gristle.
At these moments, Mr. Holm seems less like a music or cultural critic, or spokesman for Tradition, than like some “conservative” radio host, throwing out raw meat to rile up his audience.
For example, Mr. Holm thinks the “general public” would be surprised to learn that
Jackson Pollock . . . was selected to represent unique American modernism from a pool of hysterics, drug addicts and homosexuals hanging out in various infamous bars on lower Manhattan.
It’s a fair point, that “if you were not part of the clique hanging out there” you would never be brought to the public’s attention, but it’s hardly a secret, what with Ed Harris’s Hollywood film Pollock. And what period didn’t draw its artists from some clique?
The Clique was a group of English artists formed by Richard Dadd in the late 1830s. Other members were Augustus Egg, Alfred Elmore, William Powell Frith, Henry Nelson O’Neil, John Phillip and Edward Matthew Ward. They have been described as “the first group of British artists to combine for greater strength and to announce that the great backward-looking tradition of the Academy was not relevant to the requirements of contemporary art.”
As for the rather louche nature of this particular cliché, it would be interesting to learn what period of art has not its share of such types.
[The Clique] broke up in 1843 when Dadd became insane and was incarcerated after murdering his father.
In the case of Abstract Expressionism in particular, it’s simply inaccurate. Abstract Expressionism, also known as Action Painting, was, in fact, promoted (by the CIA among others) as a hard-drinking, two-fisted, All-American art movement, precisely in contrast to those effeminate Europeans. Its iconic figure, after all, is Jackson Pollock, taciturn dullard from Wyoming, drunk-driving to death with two teenage girls alongside.
Indeed, Pollock gets kudos from the “manosphere” for his supposed manly manliness:
Being among the abstract expressionists group, Jackson and many other artists lived somewhat of a Hemingway existence where they hung out together and drank heavily, and had no “wifey” chaperones in attendance. . . . The abstract expressionists were described as being “. . . strong, ugly men. . . . they weren’t cutie pies at all.” In other words, they were real men, hetero and alpha. This was also during a time just post WWII where men were expected to saddle up and start having families, because unlike today, back then having families was a good thing. Most certainly during this era artists were considered outsiders, perhaps one might argue they were among the very first MGTOWers [“men going their own way”] of their day.
A clue as to what’s wrong here is perhaps suggested when Mr. Holm states that Breton and Marinetti have become
Symbols of an art that could only thrive in a greenhouse atmosphere saturated with disdain for anything of the past (unless it was really old and pre-bourgeois) coupled with the nihilist concept par excellence.
Mr. Holm glosses “nihilist concept” immediately as “the permanent revolution” and later observes that modern art, like the revolution, “eats its own children.” However, in the light of my recent review of Emericus Durden — where I contrasted his brand of anti-social-dogma nihilism, which co-exists with a transcendental vector, to the empty nihilism of modern relativism or even “camp,” and compared favorably with the anti-bourgeois transcendentalism of Baron Evola – I would suggest that Mr. Holm fails to distinguish where modernist art is indeed a manifestation of an empty, though revolutionary, nihilism, on the one hand,
One could say that the temporal side of art . . . has taken over completely at the expense of any sort of transcendence or teleology. . . .
and on the other, where it is anti-bourgeois along with, and precisely because of, its transcendental vector. I would also suggest that this is the Traditionalism of Evola, Coomaraswamy, and Sir John Tavener; a Traditionalism which seeks to dig society out from under the ruins of the bourgeois world and takes as its guide the principles found in pre-modern art, and is able to appreciate and even collaborate with such “modernists” as Tristan Tzara, John Cage, and Igor Stravinsky (respectively).
The fourth and last chapter focuses on architecture, and once again one has the feeling that Mr. Holm is relying on some hastily assembled facts. In fact, his analysis seems to largely restate the thesis of Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981), that modern architecture is less about Beauty, or even Functionality, than about embodying interesting theories.
Where he augments Wolfe, however, is in his awareness of, or at least willingness to state the profoundly Jewish nature of Modernism. It’s a thesis that, as Mr. Holm acknowledges, has been explored both with reference to group evolutionary theory in general, as well as specific contexts such as painting and literature, by Dr. Kevin MacDonald and a few others. But it’s still good to see it given yet more exposure to the reading public.
Mr. Holm is correct to emphasize that the issue here is not abstraction as such, which can be found in both pre-modern and modern works of Traditional intent, but rather the obsession with, indeed the delight in, breaking up, destroying, even befouling the pictorial image, which he references to the mediaeval iconoclasts as well as modern day jihadi.
When all is said and one, there is precious little written about art, and especially architecture, on the alt-Right, so Mr. Holm’s essay, slender and easy to read over a couple afternoons, is most welcome.
Arktos has given this its usual high standard of production, especially appropriate here in a work dealing with beauty and the arts. The layout is friendly to the eye, elegant without being fussy, and the graced by a colorful and slyly Modernist cover.
In both form and content, this would make an attractive addition to anyone’s alt-right bookshelf.
1. As Glenn Gould said of Mozart, he died “too late rather than too early.” “Of Mozart and related matters: Glenn Gould in conversation with Bruno Monsaingeon” in the Glenn Gould Reader, pp. 32-43; originally in Piano Quarterly, Fall, 1976.
2. “The Holy Fool of Music,” The Guardian, 18 November 2007, here.
3. See “Modern Music — The Problem (Part One),” online here. One implication, which Wilson draws, is that rather than calcifying, Schoenberg actually never changed at all, a flaw he finds common to the 19th-century Romantic tradition; by contrast, in “Part Two” [here], he agrees that Stravinksy “ceased to exist as a serious composer about 1930, and has since  shown only spasmodic signs of life.”
4. Which of course is not to say that Cage is beyond reproach. Harry Patch, for example, despised “Cagean gimmickry” that he saw as at best a surrender of the responsibility of the composer, as worse, mere showmanship. “Drinking orange juice down an amplified gullet” he snorted, apparently describing an actual performance; perhaps Cage was, in that well-used phrase, beyond parody. See “Our Wagner, Only Better: Harry Partch, Wild Boy of American Music, Part 3,” here and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).
5. For an exhaustive look at what Cage took from Coomaraswamy, whether or not he changed or even understood what he took, see John Cage’s Entanglement with the Ideas of Coomaraswamy by Edward Crooks; Ph.D. dissertation, University of York, 2011; online here.
6. See “From John Cage to Liars via Nurse with Wound – A Brief History of Post-Industrial” by Mark Harwood, here.
7. Wikipedia, here. Lest that last part make them sound like the hated Modernists, Wikipedia goes on to note that they would “ask non-artists . . . to judge the merits of the works. . . . This was in line with their view that art should be judged by the public, not by its conformity to academic ideals.
8. “Drug addict” — a term belonging to the post 1920s madness of drug prohibition, is another example of Mr. Holm’s blowing the dog whistle; for a sober look at the overwhelming influence of so-called “drugs” on Western culture, see The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization by D. C. A. Hillman, Ph.D. (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008). Speaking of “drug fiends,” Mr. Holm seems to think that Naked Lunch asks us to find it “interesting to be a part of child murder” which is news to me.
10. See “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’” by Frances Stonor Saunders; The Independent, 22 October 1995, online here. One commenter notes “I don’t agree that Abstract Expressionism would have developed organically and become a dominant art form under its own steam. It was a completely manufactured movement to counteract the Realist art of the East, and Pollock, getting nowhere painting men in subway stations holding chickens under their arms, was the ideal patsy to popularize the anti-message art the CIA wanted its assets to produce. It’s interesting that the same sort of vacuous art is practised today by the likes of Damien Hirst.” Another adds that “Maybe Dave McGowan is on to something when he writes about how the CIA set up the Hippy counter-culture movement to discredit the respectable anti-war movement by association.” See my review of McGowan, “Allen Dulles’ Lonely Hearts Club Band,” here.
11. “The Masculinity and Art of Jackson Pollock” by “Return of Kings,” at Roosh V Forum, here.
12. See my review of his Aiming Higher Than Mere Civilization, here.
13. Mr. Holm cites Baudelaire, but in Traditionalist terms this is the opposition between vertical transcendence toward the Timeless and horizontal dissipation among the temporal world.
14. I would offer, in this light, my previously cited essays on the necessity of overcoming the Wagnerian legacy.
15. He cites Mies van der Rohe as part of the “inner ideological core of the Harvard architecture department.” Presumably he means the Graduate School of Design, and in any case Mies was at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago since 1938; perhaps he’s thinking of Philip Johnson? If so it would please the latter, who went to Harvard to dazzle everyone with Mies’ ideas, rather than study under Mies himself. See Franz Schulze’s Philip Johnson: Life and Work (New York: Knopf, 1994), pp. 146-48.
16. See his monograph The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (“originally published by Praeger in 1998, and reissued in paperback with an extended preface in 2002. The Kindle edition is an expanded version of the 2002 paperback edition, including significant expansions of the material on Jews and the Left, the New York Intellectuals, and Neoconservatism” – Amazon.com) as well as the essays by MacDonald and others at theoccidentalobserver.net.
17. As he writes, “In truth, any motif, no matter how pictorial, becomes an abstract pattern, devoid of traditional [sic] perspective, if you focus in on it very closely.”