Keep waiting for progress

In stark contrast to Greer’s unthreatening page-filler, Matthew Collings has written an interesting review of the history Art Since 1900. The writing style is that of the ploughman rather than the artisan, workmanlike, dutiful, relentless but scarcely glittering in itself: what’s fascinating is the large-scale structure of the piece.

Anyone reading the first three paragraphs, or the last sentence, would think that Collings loved the book: the nose and the tail are almost from a totally different review. And indeed he does love it. But the body of the review launches into a condemnation of self-styled liberal-über-alles wise men using deconstruction as a way to browbeat opposing points of view, and forcing the discourse of art historians to toe the line drawn by these privileged few. Kapow, he begins in paragraph four:

… The idea, now entrenched in the art world… [is] that it is one’s duty to see through everything. In effect this means you can have illusions about hopeful progressive politics but not about red in a certain spot being quite right or not. That would be formalism, which is either arid or else, in some kind of complicated, sinister, paranoid way, connected to the oppressive operations of a mysterious power group.

Never before have I read such a tearing-off of the emperor’s new clothes, couched in a disarming compliment of said emperor’s sartorial elegance. You’re left in no doubt that Collings loves the book, loves its academic stance and the meticulous research of its four authors. But hand in hand with the admiration is such scathing commentary as “if you’re an Art Since 1900 author the reason not to maintain a critical distance from bland mush like this is that your power base is shored up by it.” Ouch.

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