"Farewell to an Idea" by T. J. Clark

Farewell to an Idea Episodes from a History of Modernism T. J. Clark

Publication date:
08 Feb 2001
Yale University Press
460 pages: 279 x 902mm
210 b-w + 70 color illus.


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In this intense, far-reaching, and poignant book—a book that sums up the work of a lifetime—the acclaimed art historian T. J. Clark rewrites the history of modern art. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, he explains, the project called socialism may have come to an end at roughly the same moment as modernism. Did modernism and socialism depend on each other for their vitality—for their sense of the future and their wish to live in a fully material world? Have they died? Aware of modernism’s foibles and blind spots, but passionately attached to the movement’s wildness, Clark poses these fundamental questions in Farewell to an Idea.

Modernism, Clark argues, was an extreme answer to an extreme condition—the one Max Weber summed up as “the disenchantment of the world.” Clark focuses on instances of maximum stress, when the movement revealed its true nature. The book begins with Jacques-Louis David, painting at the height of the Terror in 1793, then leaps forward to Pissarro a hundred years later, struggling to picture Two Young Peasant Women ina way that agreed with his anarchist politics. Next the author turns in succession to Cézanne’s paintings of the Grandes Baigneuses and their coincidence in time (and maybe intention) with Freud’s launching of psychoanalysis; to Picasso’s Cubism; and to avant-garde art after the Russian Revolution. Clark concludes with a reading of Jackson Pollock’s tragic version of abstraction and suggests a new set of terms to describe avant-garde art—perhaps in its final flowering—in America after 1945. Shifting between broad, speculative history and intense analysis of specific works, Clark not only transfigures our usual understanding of modern art, he also launches a new set of proposals about modernity itself.

 Read more about T.J. Clark, art historian and author.

"Farewell to an Idea is an undeniably brilliant and effective book."—Stephen F. Eisenman, Art in America

"A large and ambitious book, bountiful in opinions as it is in colorplates. . . . Farewell to an Idea is an undeniably brilliant and effective book. . . . Clark offers the reader very extensive, and sometimes very evocative, formal analyses of particular paintings—especially of the classic Pollock works from 1947-50."—Stephen F. Eisenman, Art in America

"[This] book contains stunning interpretive revelations. . . . Farewell to an Idea is an undeniably brilliant and effective book."—Stephen F. Eisenman, Art in America

"The most important book about art written this year."—Richard Dorment, Daily Telegraph

"[This] book offers a subtle exploration of the relation between politics and culture over the past two centuries, and in particular of the ways in which Modernism was sustained by its related fin-de-siecle casualty—socialism."—John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph

"An elegy to the complex movement that has dominated painting and sculpture for more than a century, and it is as passionate and provocative as any of his previous publications."—Frank Whitford, Sunday Times

"Farewell to an Idea is an art history like no other, both in terms of conception and the amazing quality of reproduction."—Tariq Ali, The Times

"A monumental slab, an embattled fortress of the mind, Farewell to an Idea is a book whose weight and scope seem to alter the whole geography of art writing."—Julian Bell, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] synthesis of three decades of Clark’s thinking and writing about modern art. . . . [This] thought-provoking work . . . is well worth the effort."—Library Journal

"The essays in this volume are always historically nuanced, aglow with Clark’s deep learning and masterful prose; they will doubtlessly elicit much praise and be the subject of much debate."—Publishers Weekly

"Brilliant and original."—Laurence Rainey, London Review of Books

"I can think of no recent book which has sustained at such a pitch an intricate yet vigorous argumentation, probing originality, the lyrical evocation of the canvas, and a historical meditation of extraordinary depth."—Lawrence Rainey, London Review of Books

"Professor T.J. Clark has come up with a book at once brilliant, maddening, obscure and elegant which proclaims not the end of history, but the end of modern art."—Martin Gayford, The Spectator

"Clark's subtle, meditative book has at times an anguished tone; he is writing about the failure of an idea which he loves . . . 400 pages of the greatest criticism of modern art I have ever read."—Howard Brenton, Prospect

"Ten years on from the Fall of the Wall, and on the brink of the Millennium, Clark's book has a suitably apocalyptic tone to it. Not for nothing does he invoke the name of that ealier two-initialled fire-breather, F. R. Leavis, who was at least as capable of dividing the world into those who loved him and those who hated him . . . What makes [Clark] really special, however, is his gift for explaining in compelling and accessible language what makes particular artists—and indeed individual works of art—stand out from the crowd."—Apollo, Book of the Year 1999

Chosen as an "Outstanding" Academic Title for 1999 Choice Magazine

"[O]ne of the most far-reaching and monumental studies of modernism in recent years."—Catherine Paul