19. Modern Masters

The artists in this section come under the category of those whose contributions cannot adequately be understood in terms of style or school. More than any other period in art history, the modern age has been the age of individualism, prizing artists for the novelty or originality of their talents.

Considerations of individual talent would have been inconceivable among the cathedral masons, manuscript illuminators and painters of church interiors of the Gothic or Romanesque periods, as they would also among the traditional artists of Africa and the Americas. In such traditions, imagery and style are dictated by convention, the artist's job being simply to achieve vitality within the style, and, perhaps, gradually and unconsciously to advance its development.

The notion of unique individuality and of artistic 'masters' of supreme, usually male, creative genius, originates with the Romantic movement, and has informed the standard 'hall of fame' history of modern art. Such ideas have occasionally been challenged, consciously or unconsciously, by movements such as Cubism or Constructivism in which two artists' work may be indistinguishable, or by artists who aspired, whether sincerely, like Mondrian, or somewhat disingenuously, like Duchamp, to anonymous, impersonal statements. Yet even such manifestations as these are still usually discussed in terms of brilliant creative personalities, and much is made of who originated a style, and who merely imitated it. Such deep-rooted ideas are neither to be unquestioningly accepted nor too hastily debunked.