352 pages, 105 b/w plates, col frontispiece
There is evidence of a sea-change in Western consciousness over the last three or four decades of the 20th century, which implies a fundamental rejection of the "arts of humanism"; the tradition of art for the elite, art cut off from society, from nature and from the sacred (added, as Eric Gill once said, "like a sauce to otherwise unpalatable fish"), cannot serve the needs of our future society. John Lane both celebrates the power and challenges the defect of this 500-year-old tradition, invariably claimed to be the finest that has ever existed. He questions whether the institution of the self-directed professional artist was a great step forward in the story of self-realization, or whether it was, on the contrary, a dehumanising aberration in the history of humankind. Challenging and illuminating, this book looks forward to a time of revitalized aesthetic activity when creative expression is not lofty, professionalized and unapproachable but closely interwoven with the activities of daily life.
The intriguing title is taken from Ingmar Bergman, who likens the current situation in the arts to 'a snake's tail full of ants. The snake is long dead, eaten, deprived of poison, but the skin is full of meddlesome life.' However John Lane's purpose is not to condemn and castigate, but, on the contrary, to reaffirm, rediscover and rekindle the sacred fire, to find a way through the present chaos to a future renewal... John Lane's eloquent words will find an echo in many hearts. Kathleen Raine, poet and Blake scholar
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