Still, during the many centuries of admiring and imitating the Greeks, the term classicism has evolved to describe an ideal, a set of aspirations that humans keep returning to. The style of classicism tends to be clear, elegant, precise, rational; the structure, to be formal, balanced, cohesive, closed; the content, to be uplifting, idealized, humanist. Classicism does not have as strong a pull as it used to, in part because it can be pushed into absolutism, and humans are increasingly seeing the world in relative terms. Classical artists from the past—Phidias, Virgil, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian—will always be with us. But there are also modern exponents of classicism ranging from poets such as T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden to literary critics including Irving Babbitt and Jacques Barzun, from artists such as Paul Cézanne and William Bailey to musicians like Sergey Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Béla Bartók. So ingrained is the term classicism that many critics use it to describe contemporary forms of art, such as jazz, or even cuisine. It implies a standard of excellence only rarely achieved. Postmodernism saw an almost total rejection of classicism in the late twentieth century, but reaction might well lead to a revival of classicism in some form or another.
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Gwen W. Brewer