The idea that art has declined as a result of the horrors of the 2oth century would likely find much support. Notwithstanding that notion, art made a sequence of major but rational transformations through Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel.
Two world wars, genocide and countless millions dead within the space of only the first half of the century left artists as well as nearly all others in fear, without roots and feeling a great level of desperation. Age old values and traditions seemed obliterated. We were also left at mid-century with the prospect of total annihilation in a nuclear war, should war come again as it almost always has.
Scientific and technical revolution led the world through a sequence of re-evaluations of how art and artists as well as others might view the world. The scientific ideas led progressively from relativity to quantum physics to modern theories of a space-time cosmology that questioned even the reality of existence. Art, in a major way, foresaw these scientific transformations in a sequence of progressive changes leading through increasing abstraction to even the possibility of a formless reality. In a sense, this was an outcome that seemed by some to put an end to representational art.
The development of increasing abstraction in art may have deliberately or intuitively left it to photographic art, both still photography and the motion picture arts, to take on the responsibility for documentation of what we used to consider to be the real world.
Critics suggested that pop and modern artists were creating a watered down art with no clear aesthetic sense in mind–but worse, even a significant loss of spiritual and psychological balance with neither purpose nor direction.
This was perhaps and overly pessimistic view of the direction of art. Admittedly the world has been through a lot since the beginning of the 20th century and art has gone through it’s transformation from the totally concrete to the totally abstract, testing various levels of abstraction along the way.
Cultures have now assimilated many behaviors from each other through closer interactions derived from globalization. Cities have become the dominant places people live, yet cities remain under massive pressures due in part to their de-industrialization. People will live longer due to enormous improvements in public health, but their inhabitants will work less in a formal sense as many of the difficult and demanding jobs have been taken away by automation. Some new jobs have been created but we are still far from rebalanced. Improvements in robotics, computers and artificial intelligence will continue that trend as agents of further de-industrialization.
It strikes me as reasonable that many will have more opportunity to consider and develop artistic expression, and that they will create a new beauty in their surroundings. There is already a new artistic renaissance underway in some cities as they de-industrialize. This is true in Detroit in America, and true or likely to be true very soon in cities like St. Petersberg, Russia and Manchester, England. It is difficult to predict what form an artistic renaissance will take in the cities or in other places and for what reasons. We will build new and more beautiful buildings, memorials and sculptures. What course painting or the other representational arts will take, and whether the critics will like that direction or not is too early to tell.
Wherever you are in the next several years take a look around. Someone will have built or drawn something beautiful in a place nearby. We can’t even imagine what our work spaces or our living spaces are going to look like. What we can say is that art is not only far from dead, but is, in fact, very much alive.