Post Modern Classicisms Dialogue, Part Three: Classicism’s Stigma

Dear Jessica,

We are about to head back home to Columbus, but I wanted to send you a quick note before we go. Have you had any more thoughts about your experience at the Modern Classicisms workshop since yesterday? (I am sure it was a lot to process and engage with).

I’m especially interested if you encountered any example of or reference to what you described to me as the ‘stigma of Classicism’? You mentioned that this is a theme that has frequently cropped up in interviews for your Open University online journal Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies. You describe it as follows:

Some of the artists I’ve spoken to – and especially those who were already working in the fifties, sixties and seventies – have talked about the hostility that they’ve encountered as a result of embracing classical styles. This seems to be particularly strong in the case of architecture, where (they report) significant public commissions still tend to be given architects working in Modernist rather than Classical styles. This rejection is often explained in relation to the historic links between classicism and Nazism, which are mentioned in The Mythic Method film. But at the same time, the Modern Classicisms workshop, the Practitioners’ Voices journal and many other projects (like Minus Plato, or the Antiquipop site) tell a different story – of hundreds of contemporary artists who confront the art of antiquity and make it their own. Has the ‘stigma of classicism’ now been forgotten or displaced? Or does it depend on the medium, genre and even sheer scale that an artist is working in?

There is lots we can discuss about this, but one question I did have for you was how it relates to the present moment in our discipline? As you mentioned, 2017 feels like a particularly dynamic time for the reception and historiography of classical imagery. Over the summer you said you were following the stream of articles published in Eidolon and other online journals which highlighted the intersections between classical art and issues of race, ethnicity, cultural memory and politics. (You told me you were thinking of pieces like Sarah Bond’s articles about polychromy in Greco-Roman sculpture, Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s piece on teaching about race and ethnicity in the ancient world, and then, more recently, you read a fascinating article about ‘The Aesthetics of Fashwave’.)

You then told me that it’ll be impossible to teach classical art in 2018 without taking these issues into account, but what I was wondering was if, in addition to taking these issues into account, we could also acknowledge (or confess) to a necessary forgetting of the ‘stigma of Classicism’ within our own discipline? For me one of the biggest questions of the whole Minus Plato project has been, why do we even need to reference antiquity in the first place? What would it mean for us to remain committed to the methods, approaches and concerns that motivate us as Classicists (this list could include ideas like authority, tradition, the canon, reception, complexity, diversity of perspective, cultural translation etc), but abandon Greek and Roman antiquity in the process? In short, what would it mean to write Minus Plato as truly minus Plato?

I know, this sounds somewhat crazy, and that is perhaps why I’m not writing for Eidolon nor part of Modern Classicisms, and a somewhat disruptive voice within Liquid Antiquity. But if working with contemporary artists as a Classicist has taught me anything it is that what we call ‘Classical Reception Studies’ is completely insufficient if we want to radically transform our discipline and our culture along with it. We need to stretch ourselves so far away from our comfort zone in our Classical education and our own traditions of pedagogy to make Classics into the diverse, experimental and engaging discipline it can be. Perhaps it starts by acknowledging that we, like contemporary artists, are working constantly mediated by and through our own moment. Consider a contemporary phenomena that we share, albeit in an unexamined way, with artists. Consider the internet. Perhaps, rather than just having yet another conference with a website and a social media outlet, or a well-funded research project, and calling it a ‘platform’ or creating online journals expand our scope, perhaps we need to step back and think about what the internet and ‘being online’ means for Classics? What can the internet do for and with our discipline? How it does it forge new communities and expand our collaborations and audiences beyond the priviledged few? How can it stimulate and inform our scholarship, rather than merely be a means of convenient dispersion for it?

To do this, instead of looking for artists who engage with and remake Classical sculpture (yes, I know, I’m at it again), perhaps we could look at how the Classical is at work in contemporary art in the media and forms that we ourselves are using to communicate and share our ideas? In short, perhaps, in addition to reading and making books like Liquid Antiquity or the proceedings or publications that may stem from the Modern Classicisms workshop, perhaps we should be picking up a book like Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-First Century, and see what we Classicists share with contemporary artists, amid these debates and visions surrounding living with and working through the internet?

Ok, enough, off my high horse and this screen, and back to the ‘real’ world of Columbus I go.

Let’s talk soon.

All my best,

Richard

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