Views of history change constantly. As historians view the last forty years, they face the difficulty of evaluating recent historical trends, such as economic cycles or the worldwide impact of the arms race. Today Western civilization can no longer be seen as separate from world culture.
Twentieth-Century Thought and Letters
Many observers feared that there had been a slow breakdown in what was once understood to be the social contract. Much of humanity was struggling with dual goals: to achieve freedom and to create equality, to protect the rights of the individual and to meet obligations to others.
Pop sculpture featured plaster casts of real people surrounded by actual pieces of furniture in a three-dimensional comic strip of devitalized, defeated humanity. At the other extreme, sculpture in the grand manner experienced a rebirth, in good measure due to the work of two British artists.
No painter could better serve as a representative of the endless variety and experimentation of twentieth-century painting than the versatile and immensely productive Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
A native Spaniard and adopted Frenchman, Picasso painted in many styles and periods. For example, the paintings of his “blue period” in the early 1900s, with their exhausted and defeated people, had a melancholy, lyrical quality that reflected the
Twentieth-century writers surprised the prophets of doom. Poetry remained, for the most part, what it had become in the late nineteenth century: difficult, cerebral, and addressed to a small audience.
An occasional poet broke from the privacy of limited editions to wide popularity; representative was the attention given to T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). His difficult yet moving symbolic poem, “The Waste Land,” or his invocation to “The Hollow Men,” which closed with the lines
This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper
As societies became more and more literate, reading matter changed, becoming both simpler and much cheaper and also more complex and symbolic in its more elite expressions.
This was true of painting and the other arts as well. A wider gulf opened between those who read, or viewed, for entertainment and those who sought information, analyses, or complexity of emotional expressions.