Ben Thomas, Reader in History of Art, has published a new book. Edgar Wind and Modern Art: In Defence of Marginal Anarchy (Bloomsbury, 2020) is the first major study of the philosopher and art historian Edgar Wind’s critique of modern art. Best known for his iconographical studies of Renaissance art, Wind was passionately interested in modern art, a topic he lectured on at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1942, and debated at international conferences with prominent figures like Herbert Read, W. H. Auden and E. M. Forster.
Based on extensive archival research and bringing to light previously unpublished lectures, Edgar Wind and Modern Art reveals the extent and seriousness of Wind’s thinking about modern art, and how it was bound up with theories about art and knowledge that he had developed during the 1920s and 30s. Wind’s ideas are placed in the context of a closely connected international cultural milieu consisting of some of the leading artists and thinkers of the twentieth century. In particular, the book discusses in detail his friendships with three significant artists: Pavel Tchelitchew, Ben Shahn and R. B. Kitaj. In the process, the existence of an alternative to the prevailing formalist approach of Alfred Barr and Clement Greenberg to modern art, based on the enduring importance of the symbol, is revealed.