Modern Trends in the Arts Reveal the Development of a Subjective Standpoint

As in every other field of human endeavour, the arts were undergoing tremendous changes in the West during the 20th Century as realism in art gave way to various movements that tried to identify and represent deeper vital or spiritual forces at work behind the material surfaces of things.  Expressionism, impressionism, cubism, abstract art, and various other forms of the visual arts worked to explore feelings, emotions or hidden energies beneath or behind the surface of man.  Similar movements led to modern forms of music as the mathematical and precise forms of the late 18th and the 19th century receded.  Artists such as Matisse, Renoir, Klee, Picasso, Chagall, van Gogh struggled to find the meaning behind and being expressed through material forms.  Writers such as Joyce, Kafka, Blake, Woolf, Dostoevsky, Hesse, explored the deeper ranges of human motivations and searched for the roots of the forces that drove men to act as they did.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The art, music and literature of the world, always a sure index of the vital tendencies of the age, have also undergone a profound revolution in the direction of an ever-deepening subjectivism.  The great objective art and literature of the past no longer commands the mind of the new age.  The first tendency was, as in thought so in literature, an increasing psychological vitalism which sought to represent penetratingly the most subtle psychological impulses and tendencies of man as they started to the surface in his emotional, aesthetic and vitalistic cravings and activities.”

“But to this movement which reached its highest creative power in Russia, there succeeded a turn towards a more truly psychological art, music and literature, mental, intuitional, psychic rather than vitalistic, departing in fact from a superficial vitalism as much as its predecessors departed from the objective mind of the past.  This new movement aimed like the new philosophic Intuitionalism at a real rending of the veil, the seizure by the human mind of that which does not overtly express itself, the touch and penetration into the hidden soul of things.  Much of it was still inform, unsubstantial in its grasp on what it pursued, rudimentary in its forms, but it initiated a decisive departure of the human mind from its old moorings and pointed the direction in which it is being piloted on a momentous voyage of discovery, the discovery of a new world within which must eventually bring about the creation of a new world without in life and society.  Art and literature seem definitely to have taken a turn towards a subjective search into what may be called the hidden inside of things and away from the rational and objective canon or motive.”

Sri Aurobindo himself, in his epic poem Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol, became a leading light in this new direction towards a subjective literature as he has described here.

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 3, The Coming of the Subjective Age, pp. 30-31