Let us ponder that reassertion of artistic conservatism after the First World War for a moment. Some readers might welcome that as they read it, but what if Lewis and the Vorticists were right? What if Victorian aesthetics was an exhausted force by 1914? One only needs to consider how interchangeable the Victorian and Edwardian periods are in popular memory. Another World War and its even greater trauma later, the conservative establishment of the 1950s across British life was utterly brittle. The modern Left then began its grand project of sweeping all of it aside to little resistance from the 1960s onwards. The tired force before the World Wars suffered greatly during its course only to be killed by its ungrateful offspring.
Vorticism opposed the tradition of its time because it indeed was an exhausted one. It did not wish to destroy the world or what was prior, just transfer its energy and vigour from a point of status into bold new expressions of meaning. In their words, “the nearest thing in England to a great traditional French artist, is a great revolutionary English one.” Their vision of progress was one of creation over contentment since no force can make the world stop in one exact state of being. Refining one tradition forever is pointless if there are forces hacking away at its foundations. New traditions must develop to prevent the world falling apart under the weight of self-criticism.
Vorticism was an unapologetically ferocious formative stage of a Modernist tradition which has only ‘progressed’ through incorrect associations with its counterpart on the Left. Given its youth and combativeness, it almost had to court offence from the intensity of the energy it discharged. I think I have conveyed the exciting potential of it to have snatched the course of modernity away from its present trajectory towards rootlessness and oblivion in this overview. The Rebel Art Centre and its comrades were not granted the time to see the movement reach any measure of maturity, nor the time to discern whether it could resonate as intended.
This is an excerpt from “Progress”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.