The end of the Modern and the dawn of the Holistic

The end of the Modern and the dawn of the Holistic


This is not an attack on Modernism. I am not constructing an argument which demands that the benefits achieved by industrial production should be dismantled, and that we need to resort to some sort of medievalism in our thinking.

This is, rather,a recognition that history is dynamic and that we, in the early years of the 21st century, are positioned to direct the forward march of human development towards a more meaningful, fulfilling path that leads all humanity, not just those peoples who are permitted to participate in the '1st world', on a journey rich in spiritual meaning, equitable wealth and enriching purpose.

As an artist my concerns are focused on art, in particular, painting, which is the discipline in which I work. 


Modernism is the philosophical epoch in which we currently live and is based on the premise that all human wants and needs can be satisfied by processes.

The idea started modestly during the thirteenth century when architects in Modena, Italy, departed from previous thinking by asking themselves "which stone carries the greatest weight?" Until then the answer had always been "the stone at the bottom", but they suggested that if it were considered that the greatest weight was borne by the stone at the very top of the building then the weight of the entire structure could be channelled through the building itself like a river flowing through a delta into the sea. By so doing they enabled what would have been load bearing walls to take less structural stress and allow windows to be placed in these walls. The idea revolutionised architecture and eventually, after hundreds of years of philosophical consideration, led to the idea that the'modern'could, by process, satisfy all human wants and needs.

It took nearly five hundred years for the idea to develop. Many thinkers such as Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Moore, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, and many scientists and philosophers too numerous to mention, consciously strove to contribute to what they considered would be the solution to the dilemma of human existence. Hunger, disease, even death itself, they believed, could be overcome if the correct processes could be constructed.

Modernism had its critics also and Mary Shelly is perhaps the most outstanding. Frankenstein, her masterpiece of literature, is the story of the nightmarish results that could occur when modern medicine, in the form of organ transplants, seeks to regenerate life from the body parts of the dead, but creates instead a hideous and murderous monster who curses the doctor that created him.

Despite such fears modernism became established in Britain during the first half of the 19th century with France and Japan enthusiastically following suit later in the century. In some other countries transition was not as smooth. In the USA, for example, modernism could only be established through civil war whilst Italy and Germany required unification. In Russia modernism was patchy and only after revolution could it be made universal. These countries are now at the forefront of modernism, developing advanced technologies which benefit all who have full access to them. Other countries resisted altogether and did not become modern until their imperial colonisers recognised their right to independence. Whilst now there are not many countries which do not consider themselves modern there still remain vast regions of the world where the lives of the inhabitants are based on pre-modern societal templates.

In the 'modern world 'artists began to respond by striving to create art which reflected the aspirations of the new paradigm. Monet began by painting images of the new technologies in such a way as to portray the impression that the viewer would have if they were present. His painting, 'Le Gare St-Lazarre', is an excellent example of his approach. He developed these ideas further by placing up to five canvasses in line facing a landscape with a haystack in the foreground before painting the same view quickly as the evening light changed the colour of the vista. The critic Louis Leroy, responding to Monet's painting'Impression, sunrise', made a derogatory comment, referring to all his work not as depiction but mere 'impressionism'. The label stuck and Monet's Impressionism is, perhaps, the most popular of all modern art.

In order that art is 'modern' it must be made in a way that refers to the processes involved in its construction. Monet was one of the first and although his paintings may look 'old fashioned' to us now his impressionistic approach was considered radical at the time. Many others, such as Whistler (Nocturne in Black and Gold, The Falling Rocket) and Marcel Duchamp, who tried to capture the impression of movement in some of his paintings (Nude descending stairs No2) have contributed to the development of modern art. Jackson Pollack made the most profound contribution when, placing a hole in the bottom of a tin can and suspending it full of paint, allowed it to drip onto the canvass below. Andy Warhol took the idea further by producing art in the studio which he called The Factory where he produced his now famous prints of Marilyn Monroe.

Modernism has given the world the most amazing and beneficial technologies, including live organ transplants, and has provided, for the 1st world, wealth beyond the aspirations of previous generations and as we move into the new philosophical epoch such technologies can still be developed. Previous philosophical epochs impact upon us, even in our modern lives, and the art of those periods are revered still. From The Classical age we have civilisation and reason, from The Medieval we have social stability through monarchy and organised religion. The Renaissance has given each individual the right to question their place in the universe and established the responsibility of the individual as to the consequences of their actions. The Enlightenment gave us democracy and enshrined the rights of the individual as to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Modernism has continued to enrich our lives with technology and the fears that Mary Shelly expressed have not been borne out as she predicted. Despite the worse excesses of the 20th century we still consider the individual as paramount within our civilised societies.  

The Dawn of the 'Holistic'

A growing number of people in the 21st century feel that something in our modern lives is missing and that the freedom from want that has been obtained 'by process' has also reduced the individual to a unit of production and consumption. Others go further stating that the full experience of humanness is no longer achievable whilst all our wants and needs are so reduced. They feel that the complexities of their experiences can only be addressed through an approach that takes into consideration the entirety of their lives and that the satisfaction of their health and educational needs and, indeed, the aspirations of their entire lifestyles must be addressed 'holistically'.

The term 'holistic' came into popular usage towards the later part of the 20th century mainly in relation to health. Many people were beginning to question the personal benefits of modern medicine which left them feeling isolated from the decisions relating to the selection of treatments. 'Holistic' practitioners began to emerge, offering alternative therapies to those offered by modern practitioners. The term has since been applied to diet and lifestyle in general as a growing number of people seek to take responsibility for their personal wellbeing.

The growing dissatisfaction with the modern world, expressed as stress, alienation and general disappointment with the world, has led many to examine the nature of their lives and to actively seek viable alternatives to their consumer led lives. This has led to increased interest in spiritual matters and the'holistic'lifestyle.

The 'holistic' lifestyle is one that addresses all aspects of a person's existence, weaving consistency into the various roles that each individual must fulfil thus creating a sense of wellbeing. Taking employment as an example, recent developments in digital communication and information processing allows for the remote interaction of any number of employees contributing to a work based project. Many such employees choose, therefore, to work from home, allowing them to have more contact with their families whilst fulfilling their employment obligations. Such a change in patterns of employment will, in the 21st century, become more common as the cost of transport increases.

Holistic art

Holistic art is that which connects with, and enhances the experience of, the audience. Whereas modern art is concerned with referring to the processes of its creation, holistic art seeks a meaningful relationship with the viewer. It is art that draws the attention of the viewer and enhances their feeling of wellbeing. It is art that helps the viewer to feel good about themselves and the world around them.

The challenge to holistic art is that most people in advanced industrial societies are visually sated. A modern person sees in the course of any one day more images than did Caravaggio in his entire life. Very quickly we learn not to look at the image only registering, briefly, its iconic reference. Holistic art must, then, attract the viewer enough to cause them to really look at it and to regard it as a unique element in the experience of their life.

As the modern epoch draws to a close and the holistic dawns, art has the unique opportunity to lead the way forward, to influence the development of a new way of living and to enhance the wellbeing of all who embrace the new age of human experience. Holistic art is contemporary, dynamic, challenging and beautiful. 'Colourscapes' is my contribution to the expression of this new and dynamic approach to life.