In our examination and assessment of our ancient ancestors, should we continue to embrace their creative accomplishments as the proper inspiration and muse for today’s cultural climate? Or, should we more fully turn our back on the past and re-direct our gaze to the impulses that are currently around us today? In Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Art in Painting and Sculpture, 1755, the famed classicist Johann Winckelmann stated: “To take the ancients for models is our only way to become great, yes, unsurpassable if we can.” What are your thoughts on maintaining a constancy with the classical past as the preferred role model for contemporary artists? Have our creative artists proven themselves strong enough to let go of the classical decorum in favor of the modernist’s experimental art?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Contemporary art should, one might argue, continue to be influenced by the classical past while experimenting with the new. To draw a distinction between ancient and modern forms is in fact impossible, as modern forms are inspired by classical forms. 

For example, as the Ted-Ed talk whose link is below...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Contemporary art should, one might argue, continue to be influenced by the classical past while experimenting with the new. To draw a distinction between ancient and modern forms is in fact impossible, as modern forms are inspired by classical forms. 

For example, as the Ted-Ed talk whose link is below explains, the pioneers of the modern art movement drew on ancient art for inspiration. Both Picasso and Matisse were inspired by an ancient African mask from the Ivory Coast. Picasso went on to explore African masks and to copy ancient forms in his art. For example, his painting of five nude women, Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), included two women whose faces were modeled on ancient African masks. Its sense of space and shapes were primitive, and yet the painting was celebrated as one of the first masterpieces of the 20th century. Modigliani was another artist who was inspired by ancient African art, and British sculptor Henry Moore drew on ancient Toltec forms to craft his modernist bronze sculptures. Josef Albers, a modernist painter and print maker, modified Pre-columbian forms in his geometric abstract art works such as in his series Homage to the Square. Therefore, it could be argued that contemporary artists never let go of classical forms for their inspiration, so to choose contemporary art over classical art does not mean jettisoning classical art. Classical forms are found within contemporary art, so we can continue to get inspiration from both classical and contemporary works. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team