The biggest problem with Modernism as it is currently studied in the West is provincialism. Modernism tends to be understood as something that evolved in the West, and was then exported to Asian cultures such as those of India and Japan, where it was basically imitated. This talk will offer quite a different view, presenting Western Modernism instead as part of a global symphony of simultaneous, mutually dependent cultural movements whose influence operated at least as powerfully from East to West as vice-versa.

I will demonstrate that very many celebrated ‘innovations’ in early twentieth century British art and literature were derived directly from the visual cultures of Southern and Eastern Asia, and will suggest that it is even possible to see these as the Westernmost manifestation of the pan-Asianist movement that originated in Japan at the end of the nineteenth century and then spread across the continent.

In sculpture, I will show that the early sculptures of Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill, which most surveys of British Modernism cite as London’s first examples of three-dimensional Modernist art, were inspired directly by Indian temple carvings available via museums and photographic collections in the capital.

I will furthermore present evidence that London’s poets of the same period, including Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington, developed the aesthetics of Imagism – London’s first fully-fledged movement in Modernist poetry – directly from a study of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints at the British Museum and the V&A.

Recorded from a ninety-minute talk and slide-show by Rupert Richard Arrowsmith on 20th Century global culture given as part of the Director’s Seminar Series at London university’s School of Advanced Study, 7th March 2012.

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