(This was meant to be today's post but I was distracted by the snow.)
Andrew Lambirth, art critic for 'The Spectator', wrote an interesting comment piece in yesterday's 'Sunday Telegraph' entitled 'Brilliant, beautiful and British - and not on view' (Here is a link). I was left thinking about how we construct narratives of Art History. I suspect that there is still thought to be a lot credibility in what could be described as a 'Whig History' of art. (Whig history was a British concept that saw History, and especially British history, as an arc of continous political and cultural advancement.) Analagous to that, one starts with the art of Primitive peoples and ends with...well, the Enlightenment, I suppose. At least with the Enlightment belief that it could be understood what constituted, say, the perfect composition in painting or the ground plan of a hospital and applied. They had it all worked out. All that any artist or architect had to do was simply repeat. It was in it's way 'The End of History'. This was obviously misconcieved. Nineteenth century Academicism is not the pinacle of Art, any more than that produced in the Early Middle Ages is the nadir. I digress. What I am trying to suggest is that for various reasons there is still felt be a need to see in Art History a clear linear narrative process, and a belief that contemporary Modernism is the natural outcome of that process. (The only difference with the old Enlightment/Whig narrative is the de-coupling of any ideas of 'progress'. Though that notion was certainly evident in some forms of early Modernism. I am thinking here mainly of architecture.) You may not like it, but you have to put up with it. It is the 'Zeitgeist'.
Good artists and architects have been 'demoted' by this concept. They are either irrelevant to the Historical process, or are seen solely as agents of change - just signposts to an New Age with little intrinsic value of their own. They have become 'means' and not 'ends' in themselves. Those twentieth artists which I love, such as Piper and the other Neo-Romantics, as well as their contemporary followers are largely ignored by the media and critics because they don't fit in to that narrative.
Andrew Lambirth is right to point out that we live in age of pluralism. Art History is full of subtleties and contracdictions. It is not a clear linear narrative. It is shame that this is not often acknowledged.