Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Lawson Question

The progressive mindset strikes again. Last night, in a moment of inattention, I found myself listening to Radio 4's Front Row, where Mark Lawson - radio's answer to Will Gompertz - was talking to a critic about the new Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain, the one that stresses the radicalism of the movement. Poor Mark was genuinely bewildered - How, he inquired plaintively, can a movement that looks back to the past be described as radical? Well, er, wasn't looking back to the past exactly what Victorian radicalism did - from Pugin's radical medievalism to the civilising fantasies of Ruskin and Carlyle (not to mention Wm Morris)? Even the giants of modernist literature - Eliot, Pound, Joyce - had their faces firmly set to the past. Picasso too, come to that, and Stravinsky... For art to be truly new - modern, if you like - it must always be deeply steeped in what went before. It was only in dead end movements like Futurism and, more widely, in architecture that a serious effort was made to uproot an art from its past - and little good came of that... Remember, the true progressivism is retroprogressivism - Back to the Future! Forward to the Past!


  1. Ironically modernism has become a sort of traditionalism. Duchamp and le Corbusier have been dead for nearly fifty years. Their ground-breaking works are the best past of a century old. Nobody who is their follower is being terribly contemporary. It's about as "radical" and "progressive" as being a disciple of Pugin in 1912. The "modern" design that is currently so trendy has been around for decades.

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