CFP: Modernism and Taste, December 13-14, 2012

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The University of Birmingham, UK
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"Taste is dead emotion" – so Wyndham Lewis declares in 'Blast No. 2'. To be a productive force, "[t]aste should become deeper and exclusive: definitely a STRONGHOLD – a point and not a line." Lewis' critique of taste is emblematic of a wider modernist concern with the role of discernment, refinement and connoisseurship in art, literature and performance. Taste carries with it a legacy of aristocratic dilettantism and public moralizing inherited from those eighteenth and nineteenth-century lovers of art. But if Lewis critiques the 'line' that represents a fuzzy spectrum of appreciation, his re-defined conception of taste, pulled centripetally to a point, is not a rejection of discernment but a reformulation of it.

The high moment of modernism, characterised so often by its look inward towards the revitalisation of form, also sought to re-engage its public with the societal import of art and literature (as social comment, as decoration, as a vessel for individual and civic betterment, etc.). In so doing, it radically opposes the normative standards of a reactionary 'establishment' and the aestheticist and decadent betrayal of art into the hands of a haughty, overly-refined elite. The socialisation of art and literature – its amalgamation into a generalised, bourgeois cultural field dominated by Victorian moral values and high-minded aesthetes – was precisely what much modernist art and literature stood against. In other words, one impulse in modernist art, literature and criticism sought not only to improve the quality of art but also the quality of art's reception, and one strategy for making sense of this today is through the notion of taste.

The organisers are looking for papers on any topic related to taste and modernism (broadly conceived as the period 1880-1945) concerning art (gallery art, civic art, industrial art), literature, architecture, dance or opera. Some areas of interest might include:

• The arbiters of taste
• Theories of aesthetic taste
• Exhibitions and performances (and their reception)
• Studies of publishing houses, magazines, auction houses
• Studies of public bodies and government initiatives in the arts, 1880-1945

Proposals for papers, panel presentations are invited. Please send a short abstract to Daniel Moore ( before 1st August 2012. Papers of merit are also invited to be considered for publication in a collection on the subject of modernism and taste.