Just plain and simple relevance

"I haven't finished with my exposition and definition of Modernism. The most essential part of it comes, finally, now. Modernism has to be understood as a holding operation, a continuing endeavor to maintain aesthetic standards in the face of threats -- not just as a reaction against romanticism. As the response, in effect, to an ongoing emergency. Artists in all times, despite some appearances to the contrary, have sought aesthetic excellence. What singles Modernism out and gives it its place and identity more than anything else is its response to a heightened sense of threats to aesthetic value: threats from the social and material ambience, from the temper of the times, all conveyed through the demands of a new and open cultural market, middlebrow demands. Modernism dates from the time, in the mid-nineteenth century, when that market became not only established -- it had been there long before -- but entrenched and dominant, without significant competition.

So I come at last to what I offer as an embracing and perdurable definition of Modernism: that it consists in the continuing endeavor to stem the decline of aesthetic standards threatened by the relative democratization of culture under industrialism; that the overriding and innermost logic of Modernism is to maintain the levels of the past in the face of an opposition that hadn't been present in the past. Thus the whole enterprise of Modernism, for all its outward aspects, can be seen as backward-looking. That seems paradoxical, but reality is shot through with paradox, is practically constituted by it."

Clement Greenberg, Modern and Postmodern, 1979

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