Modernism is a strange artistic formation. In it, time and again, originality – which remains anachronistically the goal – lies on the other side of subservience. There is no such thing, it turns out in practice, as well-tempered learning in modernism, reasonable apprenticeship, picking and choosing the imitable. And this is a problem particularly for a genteel art culture – for a culture like England’s, whose arrogance over the past century has been most powerfully manifest in its false moderacy. But I get ahead of myself. Two things need establishing. First, that Picasso’s instigation, difficult as it was, did prove time and again in other nations a spur to major art. What Malevich and Tatlin were able to do with Picasso’s Cubism between 1912 and 1917; how Mondrian thought through the same style’s implications in Paris, and what he did, on returning to Holland, to make what he had learned usable in a shared project; the long-distance Picasso-olatry of the New York School; even the scrupulous Cubism of the Czechs before 1914 – these are moments that sum up, for me, the true intensity and dignity of modernism. And for a culture signally to lack such a moment is a weakness – maybe even an indictment.
more from T.J. Clark at the LRB here.