The Fight for the “Modern Peculiar Character.” The Nationalist Narrative Within the Concept of Applied Art Modernization Reform in 1920’s Slovakia


A significant portion of the theoretical discourse on modernization reform of applied art and design in Slovakia led by the cultural and political elite in the 1920s was based on the ideological framework of “national culture.” In journal articles, leading proponents of the reform, Josef Vydra and Antonín Hořejš, constructed the concept of “modern national applied art,” which they defined based on an objective, perceived quality: “national specificity” or a “character of national culture,” which they eventually came to label “modern peculiar character” (Vydra). This article explores the ideological framework behind the modernization reform of applied art in Slovakia as a manifestation of the formation of the nationalist discourse within culture, first in terms of the cultural confirmation of the Slovak nation and later, the Czechoslovak nation. The “national character” of modern applied art is analysed as a period-specific ideological construct, which the authors created by re-interpreting the “national culture” using modernist discourse and therefore, in opposition to the school of folk’s understanding of peculiar character. “Modern national applied art” was construed as a representation of the modern urban culture of the Slovak nation (Hořejš), and also as a synthesis of the “spirit of the nation” and the “spirit of modern times” in terms of artistic innovation (Vydra). In the last third of the 1920’s, the concept was re-defined based on the ideological framework of the Czechoslovakist discourse to become a “modern Czechoslovak peculiar character” (Vydra), which rendered the contributions to reform of applied art in Slovakia now universal for the entire nation. Nationalistic arguments on the concept of modernization reform of applied art impacted the development of culture, which was applied as a way to assert the socio-political acceptance of aesthetic reform implying the principles of avant-garde art schools.