Unmaking the Modern: The Work of Stanley Anderson

A Critic of Modernity

In his work as in his correspondences, Anderson was a fierce critic of modern culture, art and science. He dreaded scientific ‘tendencies’ to ‘fit mankind into a rigidly rational scheme.’  His ‘pet aversion’ was the attempt of scientists to ‘make a square peg fit a round hole’.  That metaphor is rendered concrete in The Biometrician (1919).

“What a Piece of Work is Man!” (1936), shown above, expresses Anderson’s attitudes toward the contemporary press.  The title is a line borrowed from Hamlet.  The newspapers on the stands of a public library feature images of warfare.  A bishop blesses the troops while men kneel in worship of the machine. Juxtaposed are an advertisement for slimming pills and an article on ‘Hollywood Divorce’.  Meanwhile, a woman with a hole in her stocking studies the help wanted section.

In the same engraving, a magazine editorial ridicules the views of the art critic Herbert Read.  A tribal mask mocks Read’s advocacy of modernism.  A stick figure drawing slams Read’s championing of children’s art. As Anderson saw it, modernity was too much concerned with fads and fashions.  Diligence and sincerity were rejected in favour of speed and expediency.

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