Wasn't the development of photography to blame for the development of Modernism?

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Wasn't the development of photography to blame for the development of Modernism?

From Brian K. Yoder

Published before 2005


Q: Wasn't the development of photography to blame for the development of Modernism?

I don't believe so, although it did reduce size of the market for some of the skills that a good painter needs to develop.

One reason I don't think that photography is to blame is that the purpose of art is not the reproduction of what the artist sees in a journalistic manner. Now, there are good reasons to want that kind of thing (documenting what things looked like and so on) and indeed the camera took over part of this work from the expert draftsmen who used to do it, but in their capacity of journalistic or photo realistic renderings of reality, they weren't creating art in the first place. A camera can't create art, and therefore it is not competitive with art and can't replace it.

Another reason I don't think that photography had a role in the demise of good art is that similar degradations happened in all of the arts around the same time. Music, sculpture, and literature had their encounters with atonality, formless blobs, and Gertrude Stein (oops, I repeated byself!) around the same time that the world of painting and drawing were disintegrating as well. Even outside of the world of art entirely we can see the better and more civilized ideas of the 19th century in politics, science, and philosophy falling into Nazism, Communism, nihilism, relativism, existentialism, and irrationalism of all kinds at about the same time. It was a general breakdown of the confidence (in certain circles) in reason, truth, justice, and achievement, and it impacted the culture of the West in general and not just in the visual arts. In particular, this trend was set in motion by the philosophers, starting with David Hume and Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. It took a long time for their influences to filter all the way through to ordinary artists and their patrons (about 100 years) but once it did, it set the stage for intellectual stagnation across the board.