TABLE OF CONTENTS

BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND

Vija Celmins, Blackboard Tableau #12, 2007–15, leather, acrylic, alkyd oil, and pastel on wood, found tablet, each panel 11 × 8 1⁄2".

CAN’T WE JUST START OVER? Make a new beginning and do it all again, only better? This sentiment, echoed in some form in so many conversations today, is—as most students of art history will know—as much one of modernism’s motivating myths as it is a refrain of contemporary malaise. The fantasy of a fresh start is fundamental to how innumerable artists have imagined what it means to make art at all, and, by extension, how it might promise to make the world more like one they would wish to inhabit. The powerful image of the blank slate is so persistent in part because it is adaptable to almost any situation, era, or agenda. Time and again, however, it fails to deliver on its ostensible promises. Ultimately, a completely new beginning proves as elusive as the avant-gardist fictions of originality and invention with which its fantasy is so deeply intertwined. This doesn’t mean starting

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