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.
The objective conditions of human life have steadily improved over the centuries: the infant mortality rate has fallen, the longevity rate has risen, the caloric intake has increased, a wide range of diseases that once devastated humanity have been conquered, and labor-saving devices have taken the sweat from the brow of millions.
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.
Chemistry, which made possible plastics, synthetic fibers, and many other innovations, also greatly affected daily life by its impact on food, clothing, and most material objects. Chemistry assisted the very great gains made by the biological sciences and their application to medicine and public health.