The Cult Of The Primitives


The primitives are overvalued today due to irrelevant considerations that appeal particularly to our generation: a largely fortuitous resemblance to modernism; theories satisfactory to a particular brand of convoluted nationalism; the pleasure of finding some beauty and grace in unexpected places which our esthetically-minded parents ignored. A product of the historical moment, these considerations are sure to pass out of fashion. Then there will be a tremendous diving of paintings into cellar and ash can, a merciless revaluation of those that remain. The few masterpieces will move from special collections where they had been surrounded by their inferiors to galleries which house the broad flow of our best national art. Since they will seem not exotic nor out of place there, the phrase “American primitives” will be forgotten. When scholars come on it in dusty books, loud will be their laughter that the pictures thus classified were once considered the only admirable examples of American painting.