Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Romantic Imagination in 21st century English culture

In the ever-wonderful Feuilleton blog, while doing some research on 70s album sleeve design, I came across this rather marvellous passage on the English disease of marginalising genre fiction/culture in this appraisal of the work of Roger Dean: a man who I once interviewed and liked immensely. I thought it was worth reposting. It says, extremely eloquently, what I've long felt to be true about the way that something that helped me shape my view of the real world constantly becomes marked as 'kitsch', and also underlines the importance right NOW for a more rigorous approach to what is still perceived to be the playground of adolescents and halfwits:

'Dean’s art has been out of critical favour for so long that it’s difficult to discuss it positively without sounding overly defensive. While many other shunned aspects of the pre-punk era have been rehabilitated—folk music, psychedelic drugs, flares—I’ve yet to see anyone mount a serious reappraisal of Dean’s artwork despite his furniture and architecture designs having been exhibited at the V&A. There’s a certain kind of critic, usually male and British, who finds the exercise of a Romantic imagination to be a suspect and unwholesome activity. That suspicion often sees a single “story” being told in art history which skips from Impressionism to Cubism and ignores the Symbolists and Decadents; it dismisses Dalí’s work after the 1930s and won’t even look at the paintings of HR Giger, Ernst Fuchs or Mati Klarwein; it’s a suspicion which marginalised Mervyn Peake almost to the year of his death in 1968, which scowls at genre fiction and ignored JG Ballard (always a proud science fiction writer) until his Booker Prize nomination in 1984. Minimalism and restraint is favoured over exuberant invention, and a blokey cynicism is favoured over any kind of visionary impulse which is seen as tasteless or kitsch, with “kitsch” in this context almost always meaning “whatever I dislike”. For every Marina Warner, Michael Moorcock, Clive Barker or China Miéville who assert and promote the value of the imagination, you’ll find a vocal crowd who find the whole thing to be unpalatable and juvenile. It’s an older argument than punk versus hippy, going back at least to the nineteenth century debate between Realism and Romanticism. It’s also a peculiarly joyless English attitude; the French have shared the debate as far back as Zola but are generally a lot happier for serious intellectual dialogue to sit side-by-side with comics, movies, science fiction and fantasy.'

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