The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: Medieval Modernism and the London Underground

By Michael T. Saler | Go to book overview

7
THE RETURN OF THE
BATHING BEAUTIES, 1936–1941

But to return to the point, the writer says: 'Let Britain be gay'. Why should Britain be gay? That is not a national characteristic. The Briton is solid, industrious, careful, sober, at work and in art.

FRANK PICK 1

WE HAVE SEEN THAT PICK HAD AMBIVALENT feelings concerning modern art by the thirties. He had hoped that modern art was the manifestation of a new living spirit that would restore an organic community in a secular age, a new form of religious expression suited to a world in need of contemporary symbols expressing the underlying form, balance, and harmony of existence. As he told the art students at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1934, modern physics revealed the “mysterious continuum” of spirit that underlay and conjoined all of nature, and modern art—cubism, pointillism, surrealism—reflected and expressed these new scientific discoveries. Art schools must help usher in the new art and cease pursuing antiquated practices like copying from casts: “Forms of art have changed. Walt Disney and Film. The machine. Not as conscious of it in art schools as we should be.” 2 Long before English “pop art” was inaugurated in the 1950s by the Independent Group, which contended that mass culture was a legitimate form of art, Pick was trying to institutionalize the new “living art” of film and animation by having them recognized as such in the nation's art schools.

But Pick always feared that artists could easily lose sight of their moral responsibilities to society and engage thoughtlessly in hedonistic forms of selfexpression, rather than work toward the revelation of the higher Self through submission to the law of fitness for purpose. Genuine artistic freedom could only be expressed within the context of purposeful social activity, thereby reconciling the diversity of individual expression with the unity of cosmic law: “This freedom! Right only within some framework of style. How to reach this & realize it. By coordination & cooperation in a common task.” 3 Pick turned to education to ensure that the next generation of citizens would be instructed in

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