Modern art is often characterized as a series of broken taboos, as a constant expansion of the possibility of making art. In fact, the situation is precisely the reverse. New taboos and new reductions were constantly being introduced in modern art. For no obvious reason, artists imposed on themselves the obligation to use only abstract geometric figures, or only ready-mades, or only words. The forms of modern art are due solely to this self-imposed ascetic creation of taboos, restrictions and reductions. This example demonstrates that newness arises not from expansion but rather from reduction, from a new mode of asceticism.
- Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript
(At first I found this convincing, but upon further reflection I think the phrase “for no obvious reason” is simply incorrect. Artists imposed such restrictions on themselves because the alternatives – figuration, landscape, sculpting stone, etc. – felt painfully old-fashioned, out-of-date. And to be old-fashioned was the road to mediocrity and artistic death.)