PRINT April 1986


Our mind is a moving scene, which we are perpetually copying.

—Denis Diderot

AS ARTISTIC TRADITIONS GO, the Modernist belief in the autonomy of the work of art was of short standing but had a strong grip. No one over 40 has any trouble remembering the strictures against narrative painting; such bans on external references ruled the non-discursive arts in the mid century, seemingly unbudgeable rocks of purist principle. The serious Modernist could make signs and evoke symbolic meanings, but was prohibited from regressing so far as to tell a story. Here were strategies and gestures that asserted the work’s presence, its self-reflexive state of being, but that did not allude to any historical process. On no account was the Modernist work of art to be understood as an account, as an allusion to interwoven or sequenced events, or to human cause and effect.

The narrative way, of course, was

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