A Fractured Landscape of Modernity: Culture and Conflict in by James Wilkes (auth.)

By James Wilkes (auth.)

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53 However, this inheritance clashed with another belief: that art should be a force for good in the world. G. 54 And yet, though Fry rejected Ruskin’s notion that the imaginative life served morality, and mocked Tolstoy’s attempts to bind artistic value to moral consequences,55 he was unwilling to completely give up an ethical justification for art. When he alludes to ‘the great importance of aesthetic feeling for the spiritual existence of man’,56 or calls ‘aesthetic emotion [ . . ] a matter of infinite importance’ for those who experience it, he hesitates before a gulf which not only risks plunging him ‘in the depths of mysticism’,57 but entails an admission he is unwilling to make: that he, just as much as Ruskin or Tolstoy, wishes to imbue art with an ethical dimension that will justify its existence.

1 cm Source: London, The Courtauld Gallery. Copyright The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London. 76 A few days after writing to Virginia, Vanessa addressed a letter to Clive Bell on the 9 October, telling him that she and her sister, who had returned since her earlier letter, had ‘had no interesting talk since I wrote. In fact, after our first outbursts we have been rather silent. ’78 At this point, Purbeck appears to be more insular than ever: a place where the heat makes an intellectual activity like reading impossible,79 where the landscape itself looks like a Steer painting, with the sense of conventionality that must imply,80 and where two sisters somniloquently talk themselves into their past.

We have a painting that reflects, in its replacement of an anchoring perspective with an enveloping atmosphere, the disruptions of modernity on ways of seeing the sea. We also have photographs that reveal the latent connections between the architectures of leisure and war that adorned Studland, and we discover a place which, at the turn of the twentieth century, is very much connected to modernity. Finally, walking the beach today, we find concrete remains which carry less and less narrative weight, as they tumble down cliffs or slowly silt up, approaching ever closer to pure form.

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