The Fourth Turning: Artists

The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe explains the theory that history essentially repeats itself every 80 years. Within this 80-year span, four 20-year time blocks called “turnings” are distinguished as specific, repeating patterns of societal highs, awakenings, unravelings, and crises. Each of these turnings’ events can be matched up with the events during the turning that happened 80 years prior. For instance, “high” periods tend to have similar patterns of societal well-being, economic success, income equality, etc. The people born into each of these turnings, according to this theory, fit into specific archetypal roles that also follow this pattern.

I recently watched a video series on this theory and was not so stunned to find out that the period of time we are in right now could be classified as a Crisis turning. This means events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, BLM protests, vast income inequality, and more (!) are aligned with events from such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and World War II. The part of this theory that stuck with me was that people born within the Crisis turning are considered the Artist archetype. Something about that just made sense to me! Born from crises are those who make.

For me, the most interesting part of art history is the intersection of history and art history. I am utterly fascinated by people’s art (and continue to be inspired and challenged by studying it) but because this world is so interconnected, I am always even more fascinated by how the art fits into or deviates from the societal patterns, the time period, the cultural expectations, the movements, or the dialogue of the world at the time in which it was created. It’s a classic chicken and the egg scenario for me. Was the world gearing up to receive the art that this artist made or was it the artist who decided their art would be a catalyst for change? I find in most cases it’s both! Learning about this theory that history is cyclical brings up the same questions that art history does. Is it the world around us that shapes us to be artists? Do we make art as a reaction to the world around us? Are we artists because the world needed some or because we needed to be? Both? Neither? The best questions can’t be answered definitively.

In Strauss and Howe’s theory, this fourth turning that we are in has caused a whole generation of us to be artists. We were, in this case, shaped by the world around us to create. I’m sure many of us, however, would say that the art we make is a response to the world around us with the purpose of potentially making it better. I don’t know how much stock I put into this theory since it is pretty heavily criticized by academics, but I do think patterns like this are really interesting! I guess what I took out of this and what I want to communicate here is not the theory itself but the idea that if you feel like you were born to be an artist, you absolutely were. I do believe quite wholeheartedly that our greatest service to this world is following our passions to the fullest extent. After all, there’s no one who could be you better than you can! So, this is your sign (and my personal PSA) to give your dreams of pursuing art another go. You may just have been born for this. 🙂

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