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Thursday, July 26, 2012

1960s Art

No single image could possibly capture
the promising power and ponderous
pandemonium of the 1960s. Only film
or video could hope to come close.
 Click the poster above for one such attempt.

In discussing the Berlin Wall yesterday (below) I came face to face with the 1960s in all their glory and gory horror. When we stand in the present looking back at previous years, decades, centuries, it's fascinating trying to gauge their overall impact upon who we are today. It's easy, for instance, to say that the 20th century had the greatest impact of any of the last twenty centuries. One only has to look at who and what we are now and what we were a hundred years ago to make such a claim. Humanity has changed more in the last one hundred years than in the previous five hundred. Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock, had it right in saying that the faster things change the faster they will change. We have only to wonder if there is any limit to how fast they can change. We have only to look at politics and society today to realize that most of our problems are directly related to change happening faster than those living today can handle it. Moreover, those least able to deal with change just keep right on living and living, and living. And though we didn't realize it at the time, the decade that spawned Toffler's book was quite likely the most important decade in the 20th century in terms of the radical changes that took place. They were the years the "baby boomers" (myself included) first came of age. The world has never been the same since.

Toffler had it right, though
perhaps he didn't go far enough.
It was not a decade for the faint of heart. It was a decade when we took a strong whiff, if not a taste, of nuclear war. It scared the hell out of us. It was a time when a president got his brains blown out, also his younger brother and black brother. It was a time when we stumbled into a war, and for the first time in history, got our asses whipped for it. It was a time of fast cars, fast food, and fast sex. Television rose to new heights, movies fell to new lows. Beatniks were out, Beatles and Beetles (VWs) were in, and a future senator told us that The Beat Goes On. Indeed, the whole decade rocked. It was a musical journey that started in Memphis, detoured to Liverpool, and ended up at Woodstock. It began with Sonny and Cher and ended with Karen and Richard. It was a decade that came in like a roaring, tail-finned dinosaur, and squeaked out with subcompact mice. It was a decade that began with Sputnik shock and ended on the moon in Future Shock.

1968: The Age of Aquarius

In art, the 60's saw the demise of Abstract Expressionism, the rise of Pop, a burst of Op, and ended with the whimpering whisper of Minimalism. Art came from all sources, from the funny pages, and from the front pages. It was as small as the "Love" stamp and as big as Christo's assorted geographic gift wraps. The very definition of art expanded to the point it became nearly impossible to define. Psychedelia ruled the college campuses, Psycho ruled the box-office, and Hair ruled Broadway. In fact, hair ruled everywhere.

Marilyn, 1967. She died, yet thanks to Warhol, she lives.
Warhol became a household name. Campbell's soup moved from the grocery store to the art gallery. Artists once more learned to paint neatly. Realism returned. Marilyn died. Madona was born. It was the only decade in history that ever took another decade from which to recover. It was a decade like none before, like none since. It was a decade that made us what we are today.


  1. The idea that the 20th Century was exceptional seems a little strange to me. Most of the really important technological advances that changed how people live -- rapid long distance communication (telegraph), transportation (rail), and consumer mass production in general -- were all 19th Century phenomena, as was the emergence of the nation-state as we know it and the modern corporation. The early 20th Century saw consolidation of these things (telephony, cars and planes, the Treaty of Versailles), but things have settled down since then. If you read novels from, oh, 80 years ago, you're basically in a recognizable world; go another 80 years back beyond that, though, and you're in a very different place.

    But then the 18th, 17th, 16th, 11th, 9th, and 4th Centuries would all have pretty strong claims too....

  2. Michael--

    Your point is well-taken, and of course, no difinitive argument could be made for ANY century as having a greater impact than another. I guess I was basing my judgment on the differences in life in 1900 and life in the year 2000. Yes, the infrastructure, both scientific, industrial, and political was in place, but I also took into consideration quantum leap advancement in these areas as well as the social changes that took place during the 20th century from Edwardian, horsedrawn Europe to include the automobile, jet aircraft, satellite communications, women's rights, racial relations, medicine, sexual tolerance, nuclear stalemate, space exploration, not to mention the shift to American dominance in so many of these areas during the 20th century.