What post-War art do you think will "stand the test of time"?

I find the lack of survival of literature in various eras fascinating. I was recently commenting on another thread that basically no American drama is recognized as “great” until the 20th century. Even then, I think it’s debatable whether Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, et al. will really be held up as classics 100 years from now, but no one claims that any American playwright wrote anything good at all until the 20th century. In fact, in the 19th century, only three dramatists get any cred at all: Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde. Before them, at least with respect to English, you have to go back to Richard Sheridan and just a few others in the 18th century, and before that you are looking at Reformation Drama in the 1600s to find anything of worth.

The same thing holds pretty true in poetry. I am a big fan of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and I have a soft spot for Thomas Bailey Aldrich, but I would not claim that there are many undervalued 19th century American poets. Who gets respect from critics now? Whitman, definitely, and Poe to some extent. Longfellow, no. On other other hand, many British poets are highly valued from that time period.

I do have a point with this intro. I think there is an unspoken and false assumption that great art is always and consistently being made over time. That something from every time period will “stand the test of time.” I think this assumption is made not really because the historical record backs it up–as per my intro, it doesn’t; nor have I heard anyone claim otherwise–but because current creative types want to believe they have a shot at a legacy. The other “stakeholders” who have an interest in believing this are professors of contemporary literature. I doubt many claim that everything they teach is soon to be forgotten.

So let’s pretend that it’s 2114. What art from 1945-2014 holds up? I would suggest that we leave out pop music for one reason: I think a lot from this era will hold up and it would be ludicrous to suggest otherwise. So it would not be fruitful to include it in the debate. If you think otherwise, however, feel free to say so. (E.g., if you think the Beatles will be totally forgotten in 2114.) I think it’s also best to leave off movies and TV shows, pretty much for the same reason, but you can talk about them if you feel like it. (To me, music and movies are fundamentally easy to consume, and I think people will continue to consume a bunch of stuff in these categories from the past even if it’s not that good–I think that’s the difference that makes it prudent to exclude these from the discussion. Tell me if you disagree.)

There is a hypothesis I have that informs the following opinions: That which is not popular among the “people” will not retain its popularity in the future. That is, academics revering something will not cause ordinary people or even academics in the future to cherish it.

Without further ado:

Classical music

This genre of music essentially died in this period. The composers who were already established and still writing in this period (e.g., Arnold Schoenberg, Elliott Carter) will still be remembered. But no one born during this period will be remembered at all. The mechanism whereby classical music was determined to be good or bad itself withered away, thereby making it impossible for new “famous people” to be created in this category.


All the greats from 1945 to approximately 1975 will be remembered, but no one after that. Jazz became backward-looking at some point in the 70s.


I have heard “Howl” by Ginsberg (1956) described as the last time a poem was a cultural event. I think that’s true. I’m a big fan of Kenneth Koch, but I pretty much think post-War poetry is a big zero. Here again, the cultural mechanism by which poetry and poets could become famous withered away. Nothing will be famous. Rod McKuen, who oddly enough is the best-selling poet in the history of planet Earth, is already forgotten (not entirely deservedly–he has a handful of good poems). I don’t think the beat poets will be remembered either, basically.

"Serious" literature

Outside a handful of books, big zero. The time period has created no giants like Dickens or Austin, not really even many credible candidates. I’ve heard V.S. Naipaul held up as one–I don’t think so. There are people who pick up a George Elliot book for pleasure reading–will someone really be digging into a Naipaul book in 2114? I’m not sure he will even be taught in an English lit class, unless it is specifically about his particular time period.

What could survive in the handful of books is Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies… I don’t know, it could be a bunch of things, but I don’t see any authors really being held up for particular veneration. This isn’t my particular area of expertise, so tell me I’m wrong; my feelings won’t be hurt.

Popular literature

For example, will the following be read or even remembered in 2114?

Harry Potter: Will be remembered for being huge but won’t be read any more. Many other book crazes will have come and gone by then.

Stephen King’s works: Up for grabs. Not many new and big horror writers have come along, so he may still be filling a need at that time.

Hunger Games: I doubt it.

Twilight: Hahahaha fuck no.

I’m not sure how well a lot of sci-fi will hold up either. I’m a huge Robert Sheckley fan, but he was mostly forgotten during his own lifetime. Will people still take, say, Dune seriously 100 years from now? I have my doubts. Heinlein is an idiot and I hope he will be forgotten. Certain authors will be remembered for their contribution to the genre, but I doubt they will be read much: Asimov, Clarke, etc.

Drama (plays and musicals)

I think several musicals (Guys and Dolls and Phantom of the Opera comes to mind–yes, I know the latter is extremely corny and of debatable taste–no matter) will survive because the music is good, and music is easy to consume. I think virtually no stage plays will “stand the test of time.” Already things like Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? are badly dated, and straight stage plays have mostly gone out of fashion anyway. And most stuff that we remember anyway is by playwrights who got their start before WWII. Will Joe Orton’s and David Mamet’s stuff be revered and performed in 2114? No fucking way.
Visual arts (paintings, sculpture, etc.)

This category is a different for several reasons: the pieces are unique (or limited in number, and so long as there are rich people, there will be a demand for pieces to go on the walls of their homes and offices.

That said, as in other categories, the mechanism by which famous artists are created has withered and died. There are several really rich artists (like that idiot Brit who did the platinum skull, I won’t dignify him with a google) who are nevertheless not household names like a Picasso or a Dali. I think Tara Donovan is brilliant, I think her works will be highly valuable in 2114, I think they will be displayed in museums as “contemporary art”–but I don’t know if she will be “famous” at that time. I don’t know if she can be described as “famous” right now.

Those are some opinions for you. I look forward to reading yours!

Damien Hirst. He’s about as much a household name as any currently visual artist is. Doesn’t mean everyone knows him, but he’s probably the most high profile of his peers. I happen to dislike his work strongly, but I feel he might just pass the test of time.

Ones that I think clearly will endure, with no doubt: Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. I also suspect Barnett Newmann and Gerhard Richter will have a strong legacy. There’s a whole mess more, but those are both obvious ones to me and the ones with whom I have the strongest connection. I might also throw Clyfford Still into that group.

As for “serious literature,” you can’t think of a single one? “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabakov would seem to me to be an obvious choice. (It also helps that it’s my favorite novel in the English language.) I also think “The Master and Margarita” will long endure, too, but it was written pre-war, even though it was only published in 1967. “Hundred Years of Solitude”? “Brave New World”? “1984”?

Post-war means, largely, postmodernism. I would be severely disappointed in 2114-ers if any of these pomos were forgotten:

Serious lit: Vladimir Nabokov
Drama: Samuel Beckett
Art: Andy Warhol

BNW is pre-War. 1984 is one of my favorite books, indeed.

I agree about Pollack, too. Perhaps my cutoff date of 1945 (post-War) is part of the problem. The 1950s seem like the time when a lot was still be done that could “stand the test of time.” That encompasses The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lolita as well. It captures “Howl.”

So a better cutoff date is probably 1960 or so.


Let’s see, I’ll throw a few out there: “Midnight’s Children” by Salaman Rushdie. “Catch-22” by Heller. You might count “Master and the Margarita” in there if you go by publishing date. “Tin Drum” by Günter Grass just barely misses, coming out in 1959.

In terms of English-language poetry, Seamus Heaney should endure.

For drama, I would add Pinter to the list. Probably Stoppard, as well. I don’t think Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams are necessarily going away, either. Beckett, too, but he straddles your 1960s time limit, with much of his most famous work (Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape) being just a bit before.

Classical Music: maybe John Williams. I once heard a movie director say that movie scores are the “classical music” of our age. Perhaps it’s silly to think that the themes from Star Wars or Indiana Jones will be known a century from now, but it’s at least a nice thought.

Visual arts: Rothko.

Looking at Wikipedia, his “late period” seems to have started before 1960. He was clearly established by WWII in any case.

I think they will be known, certainly, because people will still watch those movies. John Williams has also written plenty of “pure” classical music that isn’t for movies. Does anyone listen to it? No.

One thing I’d like to emphasize is that I’m not of the opinion that we are lacking great creative people these days. I think, however, that the social mechanism by which people recognize artists like Picasso and Stravinsky as “great” has disappeared for some reason.

[pout] I do!

Probably true, although I want to think about it a bit before I agree. One could also argue that we, today, because of recordings and reproductions, have much more familiarity with the art of the past, and so it is that much harder to do anything that is truly revolutionary. We’re spoiled by being able to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth any time we want; we are surfeit with greatness.

After one of Ottorino Respighi’s massive orchestral works (Pines of Rome?) was performed, it was said (I don’t recall by whom) that nothing more could be done with the symphony orchestra. The art of the “big symphonic work” had pretty much been perfected.

We may simply be in that kind of era.

However, this does allow me to mention Wendy Carlos, who had the joy of being in the forefront of an era of creativity and originality, when the new “instrument,” the music synthesizer, was introduced. Her work will probably be remembered.

Tangentially, I found myself wondering this morning when Marilyn Monroe would cease to be a default sex symbol. It can’t go on forever, I mean look at how few people would know who Mata Hari is in 2014. Perhaps once all the boomers have passed, only then will she be a footnote.

Is it good?

Hmm, I would say it’s forgotten even now.

Now, will someone in 2114 have a Wendy Carlos fansite up, and will people still listen to her music? Probably. There may be a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” site up too. I’m not commenting on the relative artistic merits by saying that. It’s just that the long tail is pretty damn long and will probably get longer.

What I am saying is that people in 2114 aren’t going to look back on 1970 and think of Wendy Carlos as one of the giant innovators of the time. Human mental bandwidth is pretty limited when it comes to stuff like this. For example, I think Volpone and The Alchemist by Ben Jonson are at the level of Shakespeare’s best plays, but it’s easier just to remember Shakespeare and forget Jonson.

Do you really think that Damien Hirst will be remembered for anything other than being one of the biggest scam artists of all time?

Classical music

Ligeti and Dutilleux (both of them are already considered classics and their works have been used in other media). Britten is the only post-1945 composer whose operas are still played regularly. I consider these as “safe”. Barber has a shot, too.

Perhaps: Lutoslawski and Messiaen.

Hardcore serialists like Boulez or Stockhausen: remembered, never played.

Cage and Glass will be (deservedly) forgotten. All gimmick, no substance.


Dylan Thomas and E. E. Cummings. Larkin?

“Serious” literature

Georges Perec (great and very popular) and Julien Gracq (another modern classic). Boulgakov and Borges, definitely (if they fit your criteria). Calvino, Golding: perhaps.


Popular literature

Almost none of that will remain.

Harry Potter: might remembered for being huge but won’t be read any more.

Stephen King’s works: No.

Drama (plays and musicals)


Pinter, Shaffer?

Visual arts (paintings, sculpture, etc.)

Magritte, Miró (if they fit your criteria): Yes
Bacon: Yes
Rothko, Vasarely: Perhaps
Pollock, Warhol: No (See Cage, John)

That’s not true. I don’t care for his film scores except for “nostalgic” reasons. His concert stuff on the other hand is quite good.

I sort of like this idea. I’m not sure it’s correct but it’s a least worth considering.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

I honestly don’t know what to say about this other than wow, is this wrong on every level (well, not about Schoenberg and Carter being remembered, but about everything else). Classical music is thriving and new works are constantly being written and produced. The majority of it is forgettable but then the majority of artwork produced in any era is forgettable, with only the best surviving the test of time (and sometimes - as was most famously the case with J.S. Bach - not being recognized at all in the composer’s own era). But there is gold among the dross, have no doubt.

I’m not going to pick on John Williams, who is an excellent composer, but if that’s the extent to which you think classical music will endure I think you need to broaden your horizons.

Ligeti, certainly; not so sure about Dutilleux. I think Barber will probably end up as a latter-day Pachelbel - a composer of many high-quality works but remembered primarily for one endlessly-arranged bagatelle (the string quartet movement that became the “Adagio for Strings”).

As for Britten, he is unquestionably among the greats. Even if opera isn’t your thing, the War Requiem is one of the finest and most moving pieces of choral music ever written. Britten is to English music as Copland is to American music - an integral part, and one whose influence can never be entirely avoided.

There are other phenomenal British post-war composers - Michael Tippett for one (although I always wish he hadn’t written his own libretti) and Thomas Ades for another. Some people are partial to Harrison Birtwhistle and Peter Maxwell-Davies, although they’re not to my taste and thus I can’t objectively assess their likely durability, and the recently-deceased John Tavener is similarly highly-regarded.

And speaking of American music, one has only to look at John Adams for a towering figure of our era. Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer are groundbreaking works in their own right, and that’s not to mention choral works like Harmonium or orchestral works like Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Adams gets performed a lot, and rightly so. I would be very surprised to see him fade in time.

Oh, and one more giant of American classical music. To quote REM,

I would agree. Messiaen is not for everyone but his work is amazing.

Probably true.

Now we’re going to part company. While I think Philip Glass’s later works show a decline, his famous trilogy of operas (Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha and Akhnaton) are both beloved and influential. They’re no more “populist” in appeal than Messiaen but let’s not dismiss them on that basis. The other minimalists are perhaps less likely to be remembered, although Steve Reich deserves more airing as well IMO. And Cage, while not much to listen to, will always be performed because he was such an important conceptualist. A lot of his works need to be heard in order for his ideas to be understood, and his ideas will always need to be understood by future composers and classical music audiences.

There are others I could name, both living and dead - George Crumb, for example, or James MacMillan - but I’m already in danger of rambling.


I couldn’t agree more.

Yet, Aeschines may be right when he says that “the social mechanism by which people recognize artists like Picasso and Stravinsky as “great” has disappeared for some reason.” How many people could name a single contemporary composer?

Glad to see you agree with me on Ligeti. One of the most astonishing musical imaginations in history.

Dutilleux: yes, definitely one of the Greats if only for his concertos (Tout un Monde Lointain for cello and orchestra and L’Arbre des Songes for violin and orchestra) as well as his string quartet Ainsi la Nuit. All of these works have been recorded a dozen times which is amazing considering the fact that they’re less than 50 years old. I’d argue that they’re extremely close to standard repertoire, now (the cello concerto being the safest).

Britten. Defintely a keeper. Barber "will probably end up as a latter-day Pachelbel - a composer of many high-quality works but remembered primarily for one endlessly-arranged bagatelle (the string quartet movement that became the “Adagio for Strings”). " I hope you’re wrong but you have a point.

I’ve changed my mind about Messiaen: some of his works will certainly stay (Quartet for the End of Time, Turangalila-Symphony) but his later stuff will be forgotten. All those annoying birds…

Speaking of French composers, there’s Jolivet who’s unfortunately forgotten but would deserve a revival.

As far as British composers are concerned, I like MacMillan and Knussen but I wouldn’t dare to say anything about their staying power.

Bernstein: good music but will it stay in the repertoire? I’m not sure. Good call on Crumb, though. He also has a shot.

What about composers from Eastern Europe? Gubaïdulina is quite popular. And those who mix their Asian roots with European tradition? Takemitsu was great. Hosokawa? Now I’m rambling, too :o.

But I stand by what I said about Cage. (Pseudo)big concepts do not necessarily make good music. And Glass, well, I think it’s really poor stuff. Same thing for the “spiritual” composers like Pärt and Gorecki.

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, definitely.

How many people in any time period could name contemporary composers? Sure, people knew who Handel was but he was a rare exception. And how many of the successful composers withstood the test of time? I mean, Johann Adolph Hasse was paid the equivalent of Michael Jackson money in his day, but you virtually never see a staging of Cleofide.

I hope I’m wrong about Barber too, but even in classical music circles his works don’t seem to inspire much interest.

I will admit that I could well do without hearing the bloody ondes Martenot again (I suspect he only used it to provide an income for his family, to be honest) but the Quartet alone is a thing of eternal beauty.

I guess Poulenc is more pre-War than post.

Eh, Ollie Knussen is probably better as a conductor than a composer. My inclusion of MacMillan is more wishful thinking than anything else.

I am. Maybe not the symphonies but he’s got such a wide variety of work that Bernstein will always be played.

I don’t know Hosokawa at all and I’ve not been taken with the Gubaïdulina I’ve heard or performed. Takemitsu…not sure. Talented, but then so was Hovhaness and where is his music these days?

We shall agree to disagree. Most “big concept” artists in all genres fall flat. Cage is an exception.

I’ve never liked Gorecki, considering it all overrated dreck. Pärt is better and I’d lump him and Taverner together in style and quality. I don’t think either will be in heavy rotation in the canon but there’s always a niche for quiet meditative music.


So let’s say:

For sure: Ligeti, Britten

Probably: Messiaen, Dutilleux, Bernstein

Perhaps (let’s hope): Lutoslawski, Barber, MacMillan

I’m fine with that :cool:.

For those we disagree on, we’ll see :).