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

By Michael T. Saler | Go to book overview

8
THE DEMISE OF
MEDIEVAL MODERNISM

Industrial design tends to be impersonal. It is subject to the tyranny of function…. Beauty—or rather art—is a violation of functionality. Taken together, these trespasses constitute what we call a style. The ideal of the designer, if he is consistent, ought to be the absence of style—forms reduced to their function—whereas the ideal of the artist should be a style that begins and ends in each of his works.

OCTAVIO PAZ 1

THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY DISTINCTION BETWEEN ART and design, which Frank Pick and other medieval modernists had come close to eradicating during the interwar period, was restored rapidly between 1939 and 1945— with Pick, as usual, having been in the vanguard. He had preceded official opinion in his own reconceptualization of the role of artist and industrial designer in the mid-1930s; it was not until after the outbreak of the war that officials at the Boards of Trade and Education began to think of the designer as a technician rather than as an artist. This new conception of the designer, and the reestablishment of the distinction between “fine art” and “design, ” then became institutionalized when the government created the Council of Industrial Design in 1944 and the Arts Council in 1946. Pick had argued that the designer was a technician primarily for moral reasons—he had come to regard the artist as suspect—but the Board of Trade instituted this redefinition for economic reasons. This new conception of the designer contributed to the collapse of the medieval modern tradition.

The outbreak of the Second World War, like the outbreak of the First, forced the government to reconsider their views on the economic and social function of design. Whereas during the First World War officials and critics called for the integration of the artist with industry, the industries under question had been craft based; now the government was faced with competition for the sales of light-industry products, particularly from America. Postwar recovery would depend on such export sales to make up for the heavy drain on

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Contents xiii
  • 1 - Framing the Picture 3
  • 2 - Frank Pick's City of Dreams, 1878–1915 25
  • 3 - Modernism and the North of England 44
  • 4 - Morris, the Machine, and Modernism, 1915–1934 61
  • 5 - The Earthly Paradise of the London Underground 92
  • 6 - Educating the Consumer 122
  • 7 - The Return of the Bathing Beauties, 1936–1941 148
  • 8 - The Demise of Medieval Modernism 165
  • Note 177
  • Selected Bibliography 219
  • Index 235
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